Author Interviews

Author Interview: L.J. Cohen (DERELICT)

DERELICT

EXCERPT #1

Turning to the observation port, Ro stared out at the craggy surface of the asteroid the station called home. Sunlight glared off the pitted surface of the derelict transport ship that had crashed here decades before Daedalus had been built. A field of solar panels glinted in the harsh light outside. This side of the structure always faced its star, the other side showed the night sky. She, too, was trapped in a synchronous orbit on Daedalus, always subject to her father’s gravity.

He’d moved them to Daedalus Station three years ago, only telling her he had voided his previous contract moments before dragging her onto the transport. Two years before that, he cut off her access to the Hub’s Virtual School, insisting she had everything she needed and refusing to “waste” any more money on it. He’d yanked her from anything she had gotten comfortable with over the course of too many years and too many postings to count.

“Hey, Ro!”

She looked over her shoulder and shot the doctor’s younger son a polite and not-in-the-mood-to-talk look. “Jem, Barre, Doctor Durbin.”

Jem would hit escape velocity as soon as his test scores got transmitted off station. All the best Unis in the Hub, maybe even the ones on Earth, would be tripping over themselves for him.

He smiled up at her, teeth very white against dark skin, his brown eyes puppy-dog eager. “Didn’t you see my message? I ran into a problem with the program I’m working on. Can I come by later and show you?”

Ro shrugged and didn’t miss the frown that pursed the doctor’s lips. The daughter of the station’s engineer didn’t reach anywhere near the Durbins’ professional league. Everything about Leta Durbin came off as severe and elegant, from her sharp cheekbones to her close cropped tight black curls to the tailored bronze jumpsuit that brought out the highlights in her smooth, brown skin.

“Come on, Ro,” Jem pleaded. “You’re better at debugging than me, and you know it.”

She glanced at Dr. Durbin and turned back to the slim boy. “I’ll see if I have time later this week.” He beamed up at her. She smirked as Dr. Durbin’s frown deepened.

A syncopated tapping filled the silent nexus. Ro turned toward the noise. Jem’s older brother Barre stared out the viewport, his gaze unfocused, his foot beating against the floor, his head bobbing to a rhythm no one else could hear. She and Barre were the same age, but Ro didn’t think they’d ever said more than a few words to one another.

The two brothers had the same dark eyes, sculpted cheekbones and defined nose, courtesy of their mother. Barre had the woman’s dark skin tone and hair, but sported dreads that hung past his shoulders. His unruly hair must have driven her mad. Jem kept his hair short and tight like his mother’s, but his father’s Afrikaner heritage gave the boy lighter skin and softer curls.

Dr. Durbin scowled at Barre. “Turn it off. Now.”

Sighing, he shifted until he looked directly at Ro. She started before realizing he wasn’t actually focusing on her but on a spot hanging in the air between them. His gaze shifted up and to the right before he blinked twice with deliberate slowness. Son of a bitch had a neural interface. They were pretty sweet and, if she could even hope for a chance at one, she would use it for a lot more than listening to music.

“Coming to dinner?” Jem asked. “We could go over my design, now.”

“Sorry. Busy.” Ever since Ro had made the mistake of answering one of Jem’s endless questions about coding on the ed-list, he’d pestered her with more and more complex problems. Encouraging him only led to more questions. Despite herself, she grinned, convinced if he stayed on Daedalus long enough, he’d come up with one she couldn’t answer.

The Durbins headed to the opposite airlock into the core and the communal dining room most of the transient staff preferred.

Alone again in the nexus, Ro stared out the viewport, seeing past the rocky ground covered with tilted solar panels and the pre-fab domes of the station’s segments connected by lengths of shiny corridors. She imagined the field of stars beyond the asteroid and all the inhabited places she could reach if only she had her freedom.

Anywhere would be better than here. Anywhere she could escape her father would do. It didn’t have to be Earth. Maybe she could hopscotch her way closer to the Hub. Ro stared out across the star field. There had to be jobs for someone like her.

PEN ULTIMATE

 Today’s guest is Boston-based bestselling author L.J. Cohen, here to discuss her space opera/space exploration novel, DERELICT, released June 2, 2014. Lisa is another member of my G+ writing family. She recently celebrated the 1,000th post on her blog. Soon afterwards, DERELICT sold over 1,400 copies in four days on Amazon. Check out Lisa’s official site hereIf you’re planning to be in the Boston area July 10-13, 2014, you can meetup with Lisa and get signed copies of DERELICT, FUTURE TENSE and THE BETWEEN at ReaderCon. Welcome, Lisa.

DERELICT

What was your inspiration for this bestselling space exploration/space opera?

All my stories begin with my version of the old board game, Clue, but instead of Miss Scarlet in the drawing room with a candlestick, it’s a character in a world with a problem. For DERELICT, it was Rosalen (Ro) Maldonado, a brilliant and isolated teen computer coder/hacker, stuck on a space station, needing to escape her abusive and controlling father.

Once I had that core idea, the story emerged as I asked myself a series of who/what/when/where/why questions.

 

How did you choose the period and location settings?

I’ve always loved the potential of science fiction and a spacefaring future. Deep in my story ideas file, I had an old idea of an ensemble piece with the tensions between the children of diplomats and the children of station staff on a deep space platform. Some of that conflict – a town/gown split – informed DERELICT.

 

What gave rise to the characters? 

One character does not make a story and I knew I needed to surround Ro with people to work with/bounce off of. I’ve been a fan of Firefly and  Farscape, so the idea of having a mismatched crew was really appealing.

FUTURE TENSE

EXCERPT #2

Other than a few night-shift staff heading to their quarters, the corridors were empty this early in the morning. The computer lab was empty, too, except for the AI’s blinking red oculars. Barre logged into his syllabus, swallowing the resentment he always felt when he asked his little brother for help.

He remembered a time when Jem turned to him with questions. It hadn’t lasted very long. Once Jem mastered the computer interface, he quickly pulled past him and never looked back.

Barre called up the module he struggled with and turned down the music. Conceptual math didn’t get any easier with a soundtrack and Jem would be ticked if he thought Barre wasn’t paying attention. He could compose complex pieces in his head for a fully tricked-out band even without the neural. If you needed it rewritten for an old-school orchestra, he could do that, no problem. Transposing was as simple for him as theoretical physics seemed to be for Jem.

But his parents only had room for Jem’s talents in their lives. The first time Barre had played something he wrote just for them, they nodded politely and couldn’t be bothered to listen to the entire song.

“Focus, Barre.”

He sighed. “Sorry.”

Jem tapped the monitor. “Is this what you’re having trouble with?”

For the moment, he couldn’t find a sarcastic reply.

“Okay. Watch.” Jem pushed away the ancient keyboard in favor of the holo display. Watching him use the heads-up module was like watching Judicious Monkey play the multi-synth. His hands moved in a blur and the equation danced in front of them. “Look here,” Jem said, and exploded the view, showing the problem in three dimensions.

Barre stared, his mouth falling open as Jem built a representative construct, each piece linking to a part of the problem. Then he simplified the building, collapsing multiple layers of structure into a simple cube.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Barre said.

“What do you mean? If you do it this way, you’ll always get the right answer in the fewest steps.”

There was no way he could ever replicate what Jem had just done. “I swear Mom and Dad bought you from Dynamic Machines and had you programmed by an evil genius.”

“But Barre, it’s simple. Just look—”

He cut his brother off before he could wipe the display clean and start again. “Wait. Listen.” He linked his neural to the computer and played a few bars of the piece he’d been working on last night. “Now score it for twelve voices. And use a microtonal scale.”

Jem stared at him open mouthed as the simple melody line played over and over. Part of Barre’s mind had already started to create a counterpoint and a rhythm track.

“I can’t. You know I can’t.”

Barre thrust his arm in the middle of Jem’s display and sent fragments of equations flying around the room before the computer extinguished them. “But it’s easy. Simple even. Since I can do it.” He pulled up a reproduction of old-fashioned staff paper and with a few economical gestures, wrote the melody line out. “There, easier now?”

Jem glared at him, the anger in his expression a smaller reproduction of their mother’s face.

“Never mind.” Barre wiped his music away with an open-handed gesture and flicked off the playback. The room fell silent. “I need some space.” He left Jem to the work he’d rather be doing anyway and stormed off into the corridors of Daedalus Station, trying to look like he had some specific destination in mind.

 

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 LJC graduation

WRITING & REAL LIFE

Lisa, when did you begin writing? 

I was the kid who always got in trouble for daydreaming in school because I was telling stories in my head. I was the kid who turned her vocabulary list sentences into short stories and read through the entire children’s collection at the library by the time I turned ten. I’ve kept a journal since I was eight or nine years old. There isn’t a time in my memory where I wasn’t reading and writing.

However, most of that writing was poetry and short stories. I didn’t start my first novel until the summer between high school and college. I wasn’t able to actually complete a novel until decades later, and that novel is still ‘trunked’ on my hard drive.

 

How do you juggle your outside job, home and family with your writing life? You recently had a houseful of visiting family and a graduation at the same time DERELICT shot through the roof. 

It’s easier now that my sons are 18 and 20. When I first started writing as more than a hobby, they were 8 and 10, and I had a 20-30 hour a week physical therapy practice. That’s when I set myself a goal of writing 1,000 words a day, for an average of 5,000 words a week. That amount of writing (2-3 pages a day) was doable, especially in the short increments of time I could carve between work and home, during lunch, and while my kids were doing homework.

Now that the boys are grown and the youngest is college-bound, it’s both easier to find the time to write, and harder to write without giving in to endless distractions. Sometimes knowing you have time is a kind of trap. In some ways, I was more productive when I had less writing time.

Because I do have more time, I can organize my writing so that I can take time away from it for family occasions. And even in the midst of visitors and chaos, I can typically steal away to my computer for a little while.

It was quite an exciting time to have my in-laws visiting, and both kids home while DERELICT took off! Everyone wanted to watch the book’s ranking!

 

How do your dogs fit into your writing life?

Their job is to cock their heads as if in awe at the sound of my voice.

 

Do you have a dedicated time and place that you regularly set aside for your writing career? 

I do have a dedicated office with the world’s largest desk. (Well, maybe not the world’s, but the long, narrow rectangular room I use is the only room in the house it will fit in reasonably!) It’s lovely to have space that is mine and where the piles of papers, notebooks, and sticky notes will stay where I put them and not get confused with someone else’s things. However, I can write anywhere.

 

What is your writing space like and how do you settle into it when you’re ready?

My office is a small room off of our living room. It used to be the repository of kids’ toys and arts and crafts supplies. The only drawback is that it doesn’t have a door – there’s an open archway that leads directly into the living room. What’s lovely is that there are two walls of windows, so the room gets a lot of natural light. My only ‘ritual’ for writing is to turn off wireless on my laptop and either set a timer for 30 minutes, or find an instrumental album to play. My goal is to write until the music stops (a la musical chairs!) or the timer dings. Then I take a stretch break and/or give myself some social media time.

 

Do you favor a certain genre? 

In terms of reading, I read widely. SF, F, Historical Fiction, Magical Realism, Thrillers, Mysteries, you name it. I’m not a huge fan of non-fiction, though I will read it when I’m doing research.

I love to write anything with a touch of magic or the fantastic.

LJC pets

Dustin and Tigger, Lisa’s rapt audience

 

EXCERPT #3

“You’re growing bittergreen.”

“It grows fast and hybridizes easily. Unless I plan to dry it and sell it, I haven’t committed a crime.” It wasn’t the authorities he needed to worry about anyway. If they discovered a farm even as small as this one, they would just dust it with defoliant and move on. If the cartels found him, or even caught a rumor of what he was trying, Micah wouldn’t have to worry about his plants anymore. They’d execute him. Like father, like son, he thought, flashing Ro a grim smile.

“Get the hell out of here before I call Mendez.”

He couldn’t even muster the anger to snap back at her. What did it matter anymore? “Fine,” he said, turning his back on her and walking out of the display. “I don’t care what you’re doing. It doesn’t involve me. Besides, I’m getting off this rock in two weeks. You can have the space all to yourself.”

Ro didn’t respond, but he could feel her staring at him.

“Do you have any idea what it’s like to watch someone die in pain?” The words slipped out before Micah realized he’d said them, but once he started, he couldn’t stop. Memories blasted through him like an ion storm.

“No,” Ro whispered.

“What would you do if you knew there was one thing that could make it better? But that thing is illegal and when you buy it, the men you buy it from happily take your money. Then they discover who you are. Who your father is. And they threaten to cut off your supply unless he works for them.” He squeezed his eyes shut, but the images of his father’s face when the cartel chief hand-delivered his son along with a fresh week’s dose of bittergreen for his dying wife would haunt him for a lifetime.

“I’m sorry.”

Micah refused to turn around even when he felt Ro standing close behind him.

“Call Mendez or don’t. I don’t care.” He gestured to the doomed plants, still happily growing under the more intense light. “This was my last shot to get back at the people who ruined my life.”

“What do you mean?”

“What do you care?” he shot back. She didn’t answer and after a long moment of uncomfortable silence, he turned to face her. “Go back to your work,” he said. “I have to salvage what I can in the next two weeks.”

“And then what?” This time he didn’t hear any challenge in her voice.

“My father gets another chance to fuck up.” And Micah would be right there with him.

Ro met his gaze with her own and he struggled not to flinch or look away.

“My father’s been restoring this ship. I don’t know for how long. Or why. Or even how far he’s gotten, but he couldn’t get the AI to work. I stole his plans. I’m going to wake it up.” She continued to stare at him for several more minutes of silence before turning back to her work without another word.

“Wait,” he called out, his heart beating with a possibility he was afraid to look at too closely. “This thing can fly?”

Ro paused, her arms upraised. “Not yet. But it will.”

“And then what?” he asked, too softly for her to hear.

 THE BETWEEN

Diversity

Space isn’t the only thing explored in DERELICT. Your teenage/young adult main character is the object of another young woman’s affection. Your cast is further diversified with the South African doctor and her family, as well as the main character’s love interest being Asian. Tell us more about your decisions to create a diverse book.

It was important to me to have an ensemble cast that mirrored the world in which we live, and I couldn’t imagine a space-faring future that would be less diverse than our planet-bound present. Having grown up on a healthy dose of Star Trek, what else could I believe?

It was interesting to me to turn some assumptions on their heads in having the station doctor be of South African descent, for example, with her sons (Jem and Barre Durbin) clearly described as Black. Representation is important, especially in stories about the future.

I didn’t pre-plan any of the characters to any great extent, with the exception of Ro. And her sexuality wasn’t one of the things I pre-planned. Her relationship with Nomi grew out of their interactions and the needs of the story.

My own sexuality is privileged in our society and I’m very conscious of that. My goal was to present a relationship that was utterly normative within the world of the story. It’s not a coming out story. It’s not a bullying narrative. It’s just a relationship. In 2014, that shouldn’t be subversive, but somehow it still seems to be.

I was concerned about writing about characters in a same-sex relationship initially for the same reason I struggled with writing any character who isn’t me. But if all I risked writing were incarnations of a 50-something white, cis-gendered, heterosexual, Jewish, suburban mother, I’d die of boredom long before I finished a single story.

So I stretched myself with this book, the way I hope I have stretched myself as a writer in each book. One of the things I take to novel writing from poetry is making the specific and the personal universal. I have strong memories of being a lonely teen, of wanting friends and love in my life, but not knowing how to open myself to it. That’s the universal. I hope I have succeeded in bringing that experience and those memories to Ro and Nomi.

The other worry was that I’d have parents sending me nasty-grams for hiding a “gay agenda” in a science fiction book, or some such. Although, on second thought, maybe it would be great for someone to try to ban this book. . . hmmm. Bring on the pitchforks!

 

Empowerment 

Your main character Ro encounters numerous challenges, responsibilities, rewards and sacrifices. These contribute to her personal growth as an individual, a young adult, a woman and a leader. Where did all this empowerment content come from?

The main job of adolescence and young adulthood is to find one’s own voice and power. Far too much of our media is the media of submission and powerlessness, of passivity and of victimhood. We are conditioned from an early age to look outside ourselves for satisfaction and validation. How can that ever lead to empowerment? (Yikes – I should have put a soapbox warning on this!)

In all the talk about the ‘strong female character’ in fiction, there’s something missing. True choice. All characters – all people, really – need to be able to make authentic choices that yield tangible benefits in their lives. The ‘choice’ presented to so many female characters in love triangle tropes, for example, is a passive choice between (typically) belonging to one of two men. I utterly reject those kind of paths for my characters in the way I reject false choices in my life.

I also blame Meg Murry from Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. I read that book as a pre-adolescent and I’ve often said I imprinted on it the way a baby duckling will imprint on the first thing it sees out of the shell. 🙂

 LJC pottery1

PUBLISHING PARTNERS

Who does your editing and cover art? 

When I made the choice to wear multiple hats – author AND publisher – it meant that I needed to make sure either I could perform all the tasks of a publisher or outsource those I could not.

As I can’t draw my way out of a box, that meant hiring cover artists. Jade Zivanovic, the artist for THE BETWEEN, was someone I had been in an on-line writing group with. She had started as an artist, moved to writing, then shifted back to focusing on her art. Chris Howard, the artist who created covers for FUTURE TENSE, DERELICT, and the PEN-ULTIMATE Anthology is also a skilled and talented writer, who I was fortunate enough to participate in a workshop with. I found an artist on Deviant Art whose work I fell in love with and contacted her to find out how to purchase the rights to one of her paintings to use as a cover for a short story collection.

In terms of editing, I’ve done different things with different books. I’ve worked with peer editing, I’ve bartered for editing, as well as hired developmental and copy editors, depending on what a project needed. RJ Blain is the developmental editor I’ve used, and I found her on Google+. Like any service, word of mouth and recommendations from someone you trust are the best sources of information.

 

How do the three of you function together to produce a bestseller? 

Communication, communication, and communication. 🙂 It’s important that everyone involved in the production of a book is working towards making the book the best it can be. It can be hard for the writer who is also the publisher to get the necessary distance from the work to have a wider perspective. Having the right members on your team can really help with this.

 

Do you have any favorite authors or fellow authors you look up to? 

I am a huge fan of Patricia McKillip’s writing. Her fantasy trilogy starting with THE RIDDLEMASTER OF HED is probably my favorite work of any author in the genre. Her prose is drop-dead beautiful, and the characters compelling and real.

Lynn Viehl is a mentor. I have loved her STARDOC books and read them over and over. She’s also a class act as a writer, and she’s the model I strive to emulate in learning how to be a true professional.

 

What are you working on at the moment? 

I was set to complete the sequel to THE BETWEEN (working title TIME AND TITHE) before DERELICT happened. I got distracted. 🙂 I have somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 words to go in the story and will be finishing it over the next few weeks. I’m also chipping away at the series bible for DERELICT so I can draft the next book in its world without having to look up all the small details all the time.

 LJC Pottery2

BLOGGING

Congratulations on your 1,000th blog post! How did you achieve that mile marker?

Lots of small goals and consistency. I’ve been blogging 2-3 times a week for 9 years, and the words do add up.

 

Why do you blog? 

Blogging was a natural extension of journaling. For me, it’s the equivalent of my ‘morning pages’ a few days a week. I love the public accountability aspect of it, as well as the interactivity. Though I probably break every rule on blogging as an author because I write about whatever I feel I want to in the moment. Like as not, that will be something related to pottery, poetry, food, dogs, or nerd stuff. I don’t tend to write a lot about my process, because I don’t think my potential readers really care much about that, and I blog because I enjoy the random aspect of writing what strikes me. If I had to stick to a proscribed number of topics, I’d have gotten bored of it long ago.

 

As part of your celebration, you gave away some lovely pottery you made with your own two hands. What did your readers have to say about that? 

I’m pretty active on Google+, and I probably talk more

about my pottery and food (two of my hobbies) than about my writing. My pottery pictures routinely get the most plusses and reshares of all my posts there. I love to work in the studio and people seem to really respond to me talking about what I make and how, so it was a natural fit to give away my pottery to celebrate. Besides, if I didn’t give it away, my shelves would collapse under the weight!

 LJC Pottery3

How long have you been creating ceramics? How does it relate to writing? Why don’t you sell any? 

I started working with clay when my now-18yo son was entering middle school. He had aged out of the kid classes, but wanted to continue with pottery and the only class he could take was an evening parent/teen workshop. So I was his partner. I had never really considered myself any kind of artist, so I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the work. Eventually, my son got busy with his true passion – music, but I never left the studio. It’s been six years of playing with clay.

What I love about the process of making pottery is how single-tasked it is, and how physical. Writing keeps me in my head. Pottery brings me into my body. It’s meditative. I know I need both to keep balanced and creative.

In terms of why I don’t typically sell my work, it is important for me to keep my ceramics as a hobby. One of the things I love about it is that I can be free to experiment and make mistakes, without worrying about someone’s commission, or having to have a shelf full of matching items to sell. I put enough pressure on myself in my writing; I didn’t want to see that happen with my hobby. While I do the (very) occasional commission, I vastly prefer to give the pottery away as gifts or do art trades. I have traded pieces for beautiful work – jewelry, blown glass, fiber art, paintings, and wooden spoons. I love surrounding myself with handmade art.

 

BOOK MARKETING

DERELICT recently had a sales surge of 1,400 copies in only four days at Amazon. Unlike many other successful authors, you consciously chose NOT to do a blog tour. Why did you skip the blog tours? What did you do instead? 

I’ve watched author friends of mine struggling with massive promotional campaigns for very little gain. Judging by the income generated by my first two books, I wasn’t willing to spend even relatively small amounts of income I didn’t have on promotion that would likely not pay for itself. And even when bloggers allow guest posts, there is a cost in terms of time. I did a large number of guest posts/interviews/giveaways/review copies for THE BETWEEN in 2012. It was months of work and didn’t lead to any measurable increase in sales. Admittedly, at the time it was my only published work, so perhaps with three books out, a blog tour would have been effective, but there was so much going on in my life and my family, that I knew I didn’t have the time and focus to work on one. 

Instead, I sent an issue of my occasional newsletter to its subscribers, asking them if they’d be willing to spread the word and if they were interested in DERELICT, if they would be willing to either purchase it or place it on their wish lists in its first week after publication. I shared the information about the book on Google+ as well. 

Behind the scenes, well before publication, I had sent messages to several writers I admire, asking for cover blurbs. These weren’t exactly ‘cold calls’, as I had some relationship with each of them, primarily through social media, before I reached out to them. In addition, I had read through Lindsay Buroker’s blog, that it was helpful to use strong keywords in the Amazon submission, so that they would place your book in several sub-categories. I used ‘space exploration’ and ‘space opera’ in DERELICT’s listing. I believe this turned out to be key in its success.

 LJC Pottery4

What passive factors, things you did not personally carry out, do you think contributed to DERELICT making the bestseller list? 

While I have my books on all the available platforms, far and away, Amazon is responsible for most of my sales. What allowed DERELICT to succeed and become a ‘hot new release’ on Amazon, was that those first few days after publication where my fans were buying the book, even modest sales (10-20 a day over 5 days) were enough to push the book up in the first page of sellers in a small category under Science Fiction (Space Exploration). Once a book is in the top 10 or top 5, other people buy it. Usually this wave of buyers is made up of people who are simply browsing and have no specific connection to you. Those sales are enough to add the book to the top sellers of a second sub-category. Then Amazon’s algorithms notice it.

When Amazon added DERELICT as a ‘hot new release’ in their newsletter to SF fan subscribers, sales rose dramatically and consistently for the next several weeks. On that first day of the listing, it sold over 550 copies. In one day!!! That was one of the most exciting days of my writing life. While sales have declined since then, the book is still selling in the 80-100 copies a day range, nearly 2 weeks later.

 

What book marketing techniques have you learned the hard way that you wish you’d known when you were just getting started? 

Nathan Lowell (SF author, G+ friend, and one of my blurb contributors) talks about how the best marketing is writing the next book. I’m not sure I would have sold so many copies of DERELICT had it been my only published work. I think readers are less willing to take a risk on a new author, and having several books in the marketplace helps let them know this is more than a hobby. So rather than focus on marketing plans and promotion, just write the next book.

So much of being an author is about luck and timing. The best thing to do as a writer is to position yourself to take advantage if and when lightning strikes. Lightning did strike with DERELICT. A lot of eyeballs saw the book – and its amazing cover! – through Amazon’s newsletter.

My job was to do everything in my power to make sure the story lived up to the promise of the art, the synopsis, and the cover blurbs.

 

Tell us about ReaderCon. It’s July 10-13, 2014 in Boston. 

There are two SF&F (Scifi and Fantasy) focused literary cons in the greater Boston area every year: Boskone in February, and ReaderCon in July. I’ve been going as a fan for several years. I was fortunate in that I pitched some panels at both cons a few years ago and both put me on the program.

I go to network, to see old friends, and to get energized about the genres and my writing.

This year, I’m participating in some fun panels, including one on issues we might face living in space. As a physical therapist, I’ve long been interested in disuse problems related to a reduced gravity environment, and I suspect that space medicine will bring its own unique issues.

 

What are some book marketing strategies you might try in the future? 

Honestly, I don’t know. It might be fun to have a sweepstakes for naming rights to a character or spaceship. I’d love to hear what your readers would be interested in. 

 LJCohen author pic

AUTHOR BIO 

LJ Cohen is the writing persona of Lisa Janice Cohen, 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 working on the next novel, which often looks a lot like daydreaming.

 

COMICCON

(Re-shared by Belinda with permission from Ilyanna Kreske) When our mutual G+ friend Ilyanna Kreske took her family to their local ComicCon, her 12yo son, who was ten chapters into DERELICT, “was alternating ‘OH LOOK THERE’S…’ with walk-reading his book. DERELICT was good enough to compete with Star Wars, Star Trek, LoTR, Dr. Who, AND the entire Marvelverse at the same time. It’s that good.”

 

Thanks again for joining us, Lisa Cohen, to discuss your sci-fi bestseller, DERELICT. We look forward to seeing you again. 

Connect with Lisa Cohen:

Homepage: http://www.ljcohen.net/

Blog: http://ljcbluemuse.blogspot.com/

Newsletter: http://www.ljcohen.net/mailinglist/mail.cgi/list/bluemusings

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Author Interviews

Author Interview: Marie Lavender (Upon Your Honor)

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EXCERPT #1

Leaving had proven to be very difficult. Chloe had no allies in the house. All of the servants worked for Lamonte now, so she couldn’t enlist the help of any maids. Her own nursemaid, Veronica, had quickly become controlled by her fiancé after her father’s bout of pneumonia. He made it clear that it was better to be loyal to him than to Chloe. Therefore, when she began planning her escape, she did it alone. She had to wait until Veronica had gone to her own quarters and everyone else in the house was asleep as well. Of course, as she’d assumed, Lamonte would be preoccupied with his own pleasures and so he wouldn’t notice her leaving.

She gathered what she could and wrapped it in a makeshift sack that she slung over her shoulder on a pole. She had retrieved the items while observing the gardeners a few days before. That was also when she had discovered the extra men’s clothing lying about. They were clean and simple, but they would do. She hid everything under the bed so that a maid wouldn’t find them. She had left the house tonight and had taken one of the spare horses to the docks. Luckily, the boy who guarded the stable was asleep.

Chloe chose a ship called La Voyageur. It was large enough and it appeared to be a cargo ship of some kind, but she could not be sure. She figured she could hide easily enough among the shipments or pretend she was a sailor at least for a while until she could find a way off.

Now, on the ship, she tried to look busy or move out of the way of the sailors moving crates around. She ducked her head to avoid eye contact with any of the men. She feared that if enough attention was drawn to her, they would notice she was not who she claimed.

Chloe moved towards the back of the ship and went down the companionway below only to shrink back when a massive form came into view. His dark auburn hair was rakishly drawn in waves over his head and he had the darkest eyes she’d ever seen. Her heart raced, and her breath came in small gasps. Stunned, she tried to get control of herself, but she came to the realization that she wanted to drown in that gaze.

 

Today I’m interviewing Marie Lavender, about her new release, Upon Your Honor. We’re going to cruise back into the New York City and New Orleans of the late 1800s. Please be sure to check out Upon Your Return, another fine work in this historical romance series. Marie is a dear writing friend of mine from G+. She is also a prolific, best-selling and award-winning multi-genre author and blogger. I highly recommend subscribing to her writing blog and keeping up with her books, if you want to see how a professional author does her job, while carrying on a real life with a family and job outside the home. Welcome, Marie.

 

UPON YOUR HONOR

Please introduce us to your latest romance, Upon Your Honor. What inspired the concept for this particular book?

I guess you could say that one day the first scene of the first chapter came to me.  Chloe Waverly, in non-descript costume, goes aboard La Voyageur, the ship that was also mentioned in the previous book.  Suddenly, I knew that I wanted to write sequels to Upon Your Return.

How did you choose the period and location settings?   

I had to do some math to figure out what date I wanted it set in, a date that would coincide well with Chloe’s introduction into the series.  As for locations, I did some research to figure out possible routes the ship might take and I explored everything I could about the ports in that time period.

What gave rise to the characters? 

As aforementioned, Chloe’s character automatically came to me.  More of the facets of her personality and background came out as the book progressed.  I did have to explore Gabriel Hill, the hero, a little more.  He was introduced in the first book, as were other characters.  Some new characters came along in Upon Your Honor as well, and it was fun to create names for them and go into more detail about who they were.

UponYourReturn_E-bookCover

EXCERPT #2

She thought it was morning when she woke for the light streamed bright through the porthole, casting sunrays over the bed. She sighed and turned over only to squeal. Gabriel Hill was sitting beside her on the bed. “What are you doing? Are you mad?” For a moment, she was reminded of Lamonte and how he’d entered her bedchamber once or twice without permission. And she did not know this man. What if he was just as bad? Good Lord, he’d nearly seen her unclothed, hadn’t he? Of course, he had sworn it was platonic, but some men were prone to lying. Her heart raced erratically, and her cheeks grew warm under his steady gaze.

He chuckled. “No, chére. Just concerned about you.”

She took a deep breath. “Well, your concern could have knocked, you know.”

Gabriel laughed at her, amused for some reason. “Perhaps you’re right. It might be remiss of me, however, if you were lying here unconscious and no one knew.”

“And if I were not decent? How would you explain yourself?”

“The benefits would outweigh the consequences, of course.”

“Pardon me?”

His eyes narrowed. “Saving your life would be more important than your maiden’s sensibilities, I assure you.”

Chloe was miffed by his comments, but tried to calm down. He meant well, she supposed. “I am well enough. You may leave.”

He cocked his head, as if he didn’t think she had the authority to dismiss him. Well, she had usurped him. It was his cabin. But, it was hardly proper to allow him that kind of behavior.

“How can I be sure? Perhaps you are just saying that to be rid of me. Perhaps you are not well at all.”

She frowned. “I am not foolish either.”

“Did I say that? I am simply saying that you might be gravely injured, yet you wish to save me from the truth.”

“Don’t be daft. If I was truly unwell, you would know.” Was the temperature in the room warmer now? Perhaps she did have a fever after all.

“Would I? I’m not so sure, Chloe Waverly. You are a mysterious lady.”

Buy links:

http://www.amazon.com/Upon-Your-Honor-Marie-Lavender-ebook/dp/B00JTKTODG/
http://www.amazon.com/Upon-Your-Honor-Marie-Lavender/dp/1625260423/
http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/upon-your-honor-marie-lavender/1119268362
https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/430789
https://www.createspace.com/4762748
http://solsticepublishing.com/upon-your-honor/

 

 

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WRITING LIFE

Marie, how long have you been writing now?

I’ve been writing for over twenty years.  I started when I was nine years old.

What is your writing space like and how do you settle into it when you’re ready?

I try to get as comfortable I can, but it is not out of the ordinary for someone to find me sprawled across my bed or hunched over a notebook when I’m sitting somewhere.  When the moment comes, when I am in the “zone”, there’s no stopping it.

Why do you favor the romance genre?

I love “love”!  There is something completely appealing to me about romance.  I love watching the characters fall in love in books and movies.  As a child, I was fairly obsessed with it.  Even my childhood fantasies included princesses being whisked away by knights.  I think it’s even better to find out that it’s not all pretend, that there are actually good men out there, though they are hard to find.  I found one of them, and he has been very inspiring to me.  I wrote love stories way before I met him, but truly loving a man has helped me to understand romance better.

 

REAL LIFE

How do you juggle your outside job, home and family with your writing life?

Good question.  It is very hard to do.  Sometimes I feel like I’m going crazy.  I guess I just try to make time to get everything done.  If I know I can’t do a task right then because something else has taken priority, I write a note to myself as I reminder.  It is not out of ordinary for me to have post-its everywhere.  Also, if I am working on a writing project, I try to keep myself organized with major outlines or notes on what sections I need to work on next.  That tells me if I need to tackle research first or just start writing.  I do run three blogs, and I moderate different groups on Facebook and LinkedIn.  Would I like to write full-time?  Of course.  But, that’s not feasible right now so I just do what I can.  Sometimes tasks get put off until the next day, but as long as it’s not something with a deadline, you do what you have to do to get it all accomplished.  A virtual assistant would be nice though!  LOL.

Do you have a dedicated time and place that you regularly set aside for your writing career?

Two or three locations stick out to me.  I write in a journal before I go to bed, I compose on my computer or I write in a notebook while sitting on the couch.  The couch is a really dangerous place because my cats get curious and want to sit on my papers.  LOL.  As for time of day, anytime I can is good.  Some of my best writing comes at night as I’m settling in bed, however.  I have to write to get my mind to shut off sometimes.  I also love to write outdoors when I can.

Emma the Instigator and Cutie Pie

Emma the Instigator and Cutie Pie

How do your cats relate to your writing activities?  Help you access your Muse?

Their names are Emma, Smokey, and Katerina (or Kit Kat for short). I have written about cats occasionally in my stories, but as for how they relate, I would say that they like to keep me from writing by being dramatic or causing trouble.  Emma likes to start fights with the others to draw me away from what I’m doing.  Or, she will climb in my lap and act her cutest, which sometimes tears me away from writing.  If I am really in the writing zone, I will sit her on a pillow next to me so that she feels comfortable being close to me, but won’t distract me too much. 

Do they help paper come out of the printer?  Play with discarded crumpled pages?

You asked about the printer; that’s funny.  Yes, Emma will sit on the printer and mess with the buttons.  There have been many times where she forces a print or copy of something.  If paper comes out, it usually scares her and she runs away.  Yes, they love discarded pages.  I have one cat who likes to bat paper balls around.  She also lays across my desk and takes up the space so I can’t use it. She also enjoys knocking my speakers over.

Keep you company once the house is quiet?

If the house is quiet though, they are very comforting.  Actually, I would have to say that a cat is a great companion.  When you don’t feel well, they want to be near you to make you feel better.  It is very calming to have a pet.

 

Magick and Moonlight

EXCERPT #3

Chloe was charmed further when Gabriel stopped her beneath a tree, bent to pluck a lavender flower and placed it into her rarely pinned up hair. “Thank you,” she murmured.

“How can anyone resist such a picture?” he said in accented English. There was a bright quality to his eyes that she wondered about, but he reached his hand out to her.

She took his offered hand. Her breath caught when he lifted her hand to his lips in the ancient gesture of respect. Even through the fine material of the glove, she could feel the brush of his lips over the surface of her hand. His eyes were trained on hers, and she could not look away. There was no denying the man had done it well. But, what was more compelling was the fact that his steady gaze made her want to press her lips to his. She briefly entertained it, despite the fact that it was so wrong of her. How much that would shock him. He was utterly proper most of the time. But, she sensed an untamed quality to Gabriel as well, that perhaps he was not driven by propriety always, that he might be compelled by something else at times.

She imagined leaning forward, raising her mouth in invitation, waiting for him to kiss her. Would he do that? She could not be sure. In her dreams he would lower his mouth to hers, move his lips moderately over hers until she opened to him. He would band his arm around her back to draw her closer, so close that she couldn’t remember who she was. There was only Gabriel.

Chloe leaned forward without meaning to, and Gabriel’s gaze dropped to her mouth. His eyes became very dark, and the rapid thud of her heart against her chest was unnerving. And it happened so swiftly she had no time to react. He drew her to him and set his lips to hers. On a confused breath, she opened her mouth. Their tongues danced gently. His kiss was so compelling and she blinked when he quickly drew away.

“Forgive me,” he whispered. “You did not ask.”

She opened her mouth to protest, then thought better of it. He had no idea how wanton her thoughts had been. Perhaps it was better not to voice it. She nodded. “No harm done. Shall we go to dinner?” she asked, noting that the park had grown a bit dark.

“Of course.” He led her back to the hansom cab, where he handed her in.

 

books

 

PUBLISHING PARTNERS

Who does your editing and cover art?  How did you find them?

With my self-published books, I did my own editing and cover art.  I purchased royalty-free images and gave credit to each photographer.  I used sites like Stock Xchng, Pixabay, Fotolia, MorgueFile, 123RF and others.  As for my traditional books, released through Solstice Publishing, the publisher hired editors and cover artists to handle the work.  Kayden McLeod did the cover art on Upon Your Return.  Select-o-Grafix did the cover for Magick & Moonlight.  Deborah Melanie was the cover artist for Upon Your Honor.  The editor for Upon Your Return was Shawna K. Williams; she also did the editing for the Discreet Gentleman series by Kris Tualla (I totally recommend that series if you love historical romance).  And my other editors were Cynthia Ley (for Magick & Moonlight) and Kathy Collier (for Upon Your Honor).  I also had numerous critique partners and beta readers for all three of those books; I found them on Yahoo! Groups, Facebook and LinkedIn.

 

Exactly how do you work with them to accomplish these optimum results?

In most cases, the results were achieved by suggestions.  With the manuscripts, the editors made suggestions and I corrected them.  If there were occasional typos, I fixed that.  If there was something that needed more description, I fixed that as well.  With the cover art, most of the covers came from a simple method.  I put out my initial thoughts of what I might like, the artist came up with something and I approved it based on what I knew the characters should look like or the theme I wanted to convey.

Do you have any favorite authors or fellow authors you look up to?

I have a lot of favorite authors:  Catherine Coulter, Nora Roberts, J.R. Ward, P.C. Cast, Kerrelyn Sparks, Chloe Neill and Kris Tualla.  The list goes on.  As for anyone I look up to, I admire any writer out there who has made it through the tough publishing journey and come out a success.  Some such writers I have met on my journey, just to name a few, are Linda Lee Williams, Aubrey Brown and CJ Heck.

What are you presently working on?

Right now, I am working on a paranormal romance about a woman who stumbles into the world of vampires.  In the process of falling for one of them, she learns more about herself.

 

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AUTHOR BIO

Bestselling author of UPON YOUR RETURN and 18 other books. Finalist and Runner-up in the MARSocial’s Author of the Year Competition. Honorable mention in the January 2014 Reader’s Choice Award. Liebster Blogger Award for 2013 and 2014. Top 50 Authors on AuthorsDB.com. Winner of the Great One Liners Contest on the Directory of Published Authors.

Marie Lavender lives in the Midwest with her family and three cats. She
has been writing for over twenty years. She has more works in progress
than she can count on two hands. In college, she published two works in a
university publication, and was a copy editor on the staff of an online
student journal. Marie has published nineteen books in the genres of historical romance, contemporary romance, romantic suspense, paranormal romance, mystery/thriller, literary fiction and poetry. Feel free to visit her website at http://marielavender.webs.com/ for further information about her work and her life. She is also on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn.

A list of her books and pen names:

Marie Lavender: Upon Your Return; Magick & Moonlight; Upon Your Honor

Erica Sutherhome: Hard to Get; Memories; A Hint of Scandal; Without You; Strange Heat; Terror in the Night; Haunted; Pursuit; Perfect Game; A Touch of Dawn; Ransom; Leather and Lace

Kathryn Layne: A Misplaced Life

Heather Crouse: Express Café and Other Ramblings; Ramblings, Musings and Other Things; Soulful Ramblings and Other Worldly Things

 

Please connect with Marie on your favorite social media channels. Thanks again for joining us, Marie Lavender, to discuss Upon Your Honor. We look forward to seeing you again when you get the chance.

MARIE LAVENDER LINKS

http://www.marielavender.webs.com/
http://marielavenderbooks.blogspot.com/
http://marielavender.blogspot.com/
http://iloveromanceblog.wordpress.com/
https://www.facebook.com/marie.lavender.58
https://www.facebook.com/MarieAnnLavender
https://www.facebook.com/UponYourHonor
https://twitter.com/marielavender1
https://plus.google.com/u/0/104926404745289477307/posts
http://www.linkedin.com/pub/marie-lavender/27/187/10a
https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6938764.Marie_Lavender
http://authorsdb.com/authors-directory/1578-marie-lavender
http://www.amazon.com/Marie-Lavender/e/B00C10Q94I/

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Author Interviews

Author Interview: R.J. Blain

When Allison is asked to play Cinderella-turned-Fiancee at a Halloween ball, the last thing she expected was to be accused of murder on the same night. She has to find the killer and quick, or she’ll be put to death for the crimes she didn’t commit. To make matters worse, the victims are all werewolves.

On the short list of potential victims, Allison has to act fast, or the killer will have one more body to add to his little black book of corpses.

There’s only one problem: One of the deaths has struck too close to home, and Allison’s desire for self-preservation may very well transform into a quest for vengeance…

Inquisitor by R.J. Blain

Image credit R.J. Blain

Image credit R.J. Blain

 

Today I’m interviewing R.J. Blain, author of the upcoming witch and wolf novel, Inquisitor.

When she’s not pounding out thousands of words in writing marathons at all hours, she slips down into her Developmental Editing dungeon, where she whips WIPs into shape. The minute I read the excerpts, I couldn’t wait to get her on here to talk about her third published novel.

Follow R.J. Blain at G+ and Amazon.

Image credit R.J. Blain

 Image credit RJ Blain

Writing

What inspired you to write Inquisitor? How long did it take? Why witches and werewolves?

 

I don’t remember what made me fall in love with the idea of witches and werewolves – and wizards. I think it was in part inspired by The Dresden Files, part inspired by Patricia Briggs, and part inspired by wanting to try something new. I’ve always enjoyed a good werewolf romp, but there is a dire shortage of really good stories out there – stories that made me want to really wonder what is out there that we don’t know about.

 

The Dresden Files took me quite a bit to get into, honestly – I wasn’t a huge fan of the first one. The others, though? The glorious others!

 

I’ve always liked wolves, though. I’ve always loved their majestic pride, their cunning, and their beauty.

 

It was easy chasing after the wildness of the wolf, once I decided to start going.

 

As for witches and wizards, I wanted to create a magic system based on the superstitions of people. Magic is a multi-tiered system in the Witch & Wolf world. Witches have access to certain types of magic. Shamans have access to a different type of magic. Then there are the taboo types of magic, rare forms that are hunted down and controlled or eliminated.

 

Wizards are the rarest, as well as the most dangerous. I loved the idea of working with so many layers, and I hope I can bring these varying aspects to life through the characters as they live their lives.

 

Both as a writer and reader, what excites you about the science fiction and fantasy genres?

 

Everything, honestly – I love asking questions. What if this happened in the world? What if werewolves were real? How would they survive? Would they go extinct? Who would hunt these ultimate hunters? What could kill a werewolf?

 

What would a werewolf fear?

 

What would a witch fear?

 

What would happen if no one ever died? Questions form the base for science fiction and fantasy novels, and I have always loved asking questions, much to my mother’s disgust.

 

I like trying to see the world in a different light – it might not be real. . .

 

. . . but it could be. Who knows? Not I.

 

That’s why I love these genres. Science fiction is a bit more realistic than fantasy, I’ll grant that – but the best science fiction looks past the stars to what could be, not what is.

 

 

Image credit RJ Blain

  “The Leaning Tower of Booksa”

 

For each of your works, you handwrite in decorative journals and create story bibles. How did those come into play for Inquisitor? May we see them?

 

I wrote a very tentative story bible for Inquisitor. I haven’t completed it yet. Half of what is written in there is complete and total garbage. It didn’t make it into the book.

 

I will create the story bible and plot arc references for this novel when editorial is completely finished. While it’s a standalone, I will be creating other Witch and Wolf novels – Winter Wolf will be releasing this year as well. Ironically, Winter Wolf takes place before Inquisitor – those who read Inquisitor will find a spoiler for Winter Wolf within the pages.

 

As for being able to see them, why yes you can! Enjoy seeing how I set up to start writing Inquisitor before November 2013.

 

Foximus Maximus got left at my Mother-in-Laws over Christmas, though. I’m both horrified and relieved.

 

His squinty eyes terrified me into working. I need a new fox plushie though. And a new wolf plushie. My little wolf given to me by an ex-boyfriend in high school is so worn. Poor little wolfie.

 

The actual draft of Inquisitor was written in two moleskine journals – the first journal is purple. The second is a limited-edition Hobbit 2014 journal.

Image credit RJ Blain

 Purple  journal

Excerpt #1

 

“I can’t believe you brought me to New York on today of all days.” I nodded my head at the park, but taking in the entirety of the city in a single gesture. Even in the relative peace of the park, I could hear the bustle, the honk of horns, and the noise of the restless cityscape. Atlanta wasn’t much different downtown, but at least it was home.

“Oh, come off it, Allison. You like Halloween.”

I wrinkled my nose. “Maybe a little. I still can’t believe you brought me here, though.”

“Anyway, you owe me,” he said before clucking his tongue.

I winced. He had me dead to rights, and I knew it. Mark gathered favors and cashed them in like currency. Resisting was futile. “Rub it in my face, why don’t you?”

“Of course I will. Another time. I’m enjoying myself way too much right now. You’re mine for three whole days, like it or not.”

“I’m doomed,” I groaned.

He laughed.

I didn’t have the courage to tell him I meant it. It was bad enough it was Samhain. The full moon would reach its zenith after nightfall.

If I wasn’t careful, I was going to pop a tail for real. That’d surprise him. It’d also get me killed. I doubted the NYPD would appreciate a wolf running loose in the center of their city.

“Seriously, Mark. What’s so important that you had to fly me in from Atlanta? I do have a job, you know. I’d even like to keep it.”

“You’re owed three weeks, and at the rate you’re going, they’re probably getting ready to force you to take the time off. The way I see it, I’ve done you a favor.”

“Mark,” I growled.

“Okay, fine. It’s my mom. I told her I had a girlfriend so she’d shut up about me getting married for a while. She wants to meet her. To meet you.”

I broke into a brisk walk, cutting across the grass towards one of the other paths through the park. With luck, he’d get grass stains on his pretty, blue business suit. “You brought me to New York to dress up as your girlfriend for Halloween?”

I guess it really was going to be a night for wearing masks and pretending to be the impossible.

If I had a mother, I’m sure she would’ve been proud. I didn’t cuss, scream, or pitch a fit. I did keep walking without checking if Mark kept pace with me.

He did. “Come on, Allison. I’ll make it up to you, I swear.”

“A Halloween party with your mother, Mark? Have you lost your mind? She’s never going to believe we’re a couple, for one. Two, you live in New York City. I live in Atlanta. You know, that place you flew me in from? She’s got no reason to believe us.”

“I might have told her that you are an old college friend, and we’d been seeing each other on and off since we got our degrees. It’s even true! Just not for the reasons she thinks. Come on, Allison. It’s only for one night. And you’ll save me from marrying a woman I’ve never met.”

I sighed. “Seriously? Did your mother have you betrothed or something? That’s so two hundred years ago. At least you had the decency to book me into a good hotel. How did you manage a room at the Plaza on such short notice?” Using my brown bangs as a shield, I stared at my friend. He was grinning wolfishly.

“Who said it was on short notice? I had our room booked six months ago.”

I tripped over my own feet. A startled cry worked its way out of my throat. Mark’s arm slapped against my chest as he caught me. With a low grunt, he hauled me upright.

“Careful.”

My face burned. “Sorry.” I drew a deep breath. Killing Mark in Central Park wouldn’t work — not during the daytime. There’d be too many witnesses. “Our room?”

“We’re twenty five. We’re young, healthy adults. There’s no way my mom will believe we’re a couple if we don’t share a room,” he replied.

“You have a perfectly nice condo, Mark. I’ve seen it. Why not invite me there instead of booking us a room in one of New York’s more expensive hotels?”

“Wait until you see the room,” Mark said. Then he leered at me.

Oh God. I closed my eyes, stood straight, and once again shoved my hands into my back pockets. No tail. That was a start. I counted to ten. Then I counted to ten again.

When that didn’t calm me down enough, I systematically considered all of Mark’s banking accounts I could probably hack my way into, calculating how much I could siphon off without him noticing. I wouldn’t do it, but the figure made me feel warm and fuzzy inside.

When I managed to quell my urge to throttle my friend, I opened my eyes and glared at him. “You got a honeymoon suite, didn’t you?”

“Do try to act surprised when I propose. At least you have an easy line. Don’t worry, we’ll call off the engagement in a month or two.”

“Mark.”

“Yes, dear?”

“Give me a reason I shouldn’t kill you in your sleep tonight.”

“I’m too good looking to kill.”

“No.”

“I pay you exceptionally well for your accounting skills.”

“True, but no.”

“You like me?” His voice wavered, and I had to work to smother my grin.

“You sound so confident,” I murmured. “Fine. I like you. A little. I’ll do it, but you, dear Mark, will owe me.”

Mark’s Adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed. “You wouldn’t really try to kill me, would you?”

I grabbed hold of his tie and yanked down so I could look him in the eye. A smile tugged at the corners of my mouth. “I wouldn’t bet your life on it, if I were you.”

The little color he did have fled from his face. I let him go and resumed walking across the park, whistling a merry tune.

 

Image credit RJ Blain

2014 Hobbit Limited Edition Moleskine® Journal

 

Cover Art

Tell us about the cover art for Inquisitor. Who is the artist and how did you find them? How did you work together to emerge with the ideal cover?

 

Chris Howard  is my cover artist for all of my novels. Inquisitor’s cover features the main character as she takes her fate into her own hands. I won’t spoil, but the cover features one of my favorite scenes in the novel.

 

I found Chris Howard through one of my editorial clients, Lisa Cohen. I loved the cover for her upcoming novel, Derelict. She hooked us up, and I’ve been working with him ever since.

 

Working with Chris is easy. I send him descriptions of what I think might make an attractive cover and he works his magic on it. Inquisitor went through two different covers – the first one was redone because of many reasons – and he went above and beyond with the new version. I do push Chris to his limits though, because I do like a lot more detail than some of his other clients do.

 

I love his blend of photorealism and pure painted art. He does his art digitally, but it never fails to look like an oil or acrylic painting too.

 

How do you pay for cover art? Do you crowdfund or just use your editorial and sales revenues?

 

I crowdfunded my first two novels, The Eye of God and Storm Without End. I did put a crowdfund for Inquisitor and the other novels I released this year, but I used it as a preorder mechanism for those who wanted epubs. I got some sales, but not a lot – many people wanted to just buy the book from amazon.

 

I pay for my author costs with my editorial fees I charge my clients. I also reinvest my royalties into my novel-writing career.

 

Have you ever tried doing your own cover art? What advice do you have for authors considering that path?

 

No – just no. Don’t, if you can help it. Cover art is so, so important. It is the first thing a reader sees about your novel.

 

I have had fans tell me that they bought my book because of the cover – no other reason. They loved the cover, so they bought the book. Then they liked the book too. But covers sell books. Bad covers prevent books from selling.

 

Unless you’re good at photo manipulation, I really don’t recommend working on your own cover. There are really cheap cover art services out there and template covers – you won’t have a unique cover with these services, but you’ll at least have a quality cover.

 

I’ve turned away from many books that just had poor covers. It doesn’t have to be fancy – it just needs to look professional. Unless you can produce a professional cover, I recommend gathering your every spare penny and hiring someone who can create a cover for you.

 

Covers are just so, so important.

 

Excerpt #2

 

It was well enough our ‘relationship’ was nothing more than make-believe. Our friendship wasn’t much better off, either. Unfortunately, Mark didn’t know that. I shook my head to clear it, staring down at my watch.

3:59 pm.

I glanced eastward, at the glass-lined wall of the jewelry store I was in. Shoppers hurried about their business in the broad mall hallways, chatting to each other or talking on their too-expensive cell phones. Beyond the walls of the building, I could already feel the moon calling to me, birthing shivers under my skin. In a little over an hour, it would start to rise. I made a thoughtful sound, turning my attention back to the glass case in front of me.

It was a full moon on Halloween. Some people would don masks, confident in their superiority as a human, never realizing how close they’d tread to a very violent and bloody end. Others would remove the masks they normally hid behind, rejoicing in their one night of freedom.

A sad few would have no idea what horrors they had sowed come morning.

I was in a lot of trouble. My fellow boogeymen didn’t frighten me all that much. It was Mark who worried me. Mark, as well as the other humans he’d subject me to before the night was done. I hadn’t lost control in years — I doubted Mark’s mother had been born since the last time it’d happened.

But that didn’t change the fact that it could happen.

Old or not, I was still a bitch. Without pack or mate, it was only a matter of time before I lost control.

Mark wouldn’t stand a chance, and when I finally lost my grip on sanity, I wouldn’t even remember killing him. Why hadn’t I said no? Why had I agreed to travel to New York on Halloween? What had I been thinking?

I hadn’t been, and that was a big problem.

“Is there something I can help you with, miss?” A woman asked from beside me. I about jumped out of my skin.

Shit. I swallowed back my heart and improvised. Without really seeing the jewelry beneath the glass, I pointed at something shiny, and hoped it was a necklace. “May I see that please?”

“That’s a very expensive piece, ma’am.”

I glanced at the woman out of the corner of my eye. A pastel pink blazer was matched with a pencil skirt that showed off thin legs and knee-high black boots. Glittering bracelets clung to her wrists. “Is that so,” I murmured, focusing my attention on the piece I pointed at.

Rubies and diamonds winked at me, woven together in a Celtic knot trapped in the center of a web of delicate diamond-encrusted chains. My cheek twitched.

No wonder the woman was skeptical and eying me suspiciously. Here I was, in some luxury jewelry store poking around to waste time, dressed in a beat-up leather coat, a baggy sweater, and worn jeans, complete with mud splatter from my walk in Central park. As my luck had it, I pointed out a necklace worth more than any car or house I’d ever seen in person, let alone owned.

I felt the eyes of every customer in the store settle on me. Great. Just what I needed. An audience.

Maybe I should’ve acted more indignant. Maybe I should’ve walked away. Instead, I took out my wallet, pulled out my black platinum Amex card, and tossed it on the counter. “May I see that please?”

The sales woman stared at the card and then at me, her eyes narrowing. “Do you really think I’m going to believe this is your card?”

Half of the customers in the store cleared out in the time it took the sales woman to pick up my card.

“Is there a problem?” A man dressed in a business suit stepped forward. His blue eyes took in my clothes before settling on the black credit card in his coworker’s hand.

The woman glared down her nose at me, her gaze settling on my beat-up jacket. “I do believe we have a stolen credit card here, sir.”

The manager snatched my credit card. “Is this true, miss?”

Oh hell no. I felt my cheek twitch again. “It’s not. I’ll just take my card to a different store, then.”

“I think this can be resolved quickly and easily, miss,” the man replied. He frowned at me. “Can I see your ID please?”

I showed him my license. The manager winced. “I’m sorry, there have been a lot of theft of valuable jewelry lately by those with fraudulent credit cards and out of state driver’s licenses. This will only take a few minutes as I verify this is a real card.”

Well, at least he wasn’t going to call the police on me right away. I sighed. “Since when hasn’t my driver’s license been sufficient proof? What is this? LA?”

 

Image credit RJ Blain

Vice President of Purrmotions at R.J. Blain 

Publishing

What led to your first two books being published last year?

 

This is such a hard, hard question for me to answer. I’m ashamed at how long it took me to get truly serious about writing. It wasn’t until I met Tad Williams and his wife, Deborah Beale, that I realized how much of a fake I was. I was faking my desire to be a professional.

 

I will never forget the advice that Deborah Beale gave me. It made me transform a lackluster novel into Storm Without End. It took me a couple of tries – six, really. It took a lot of crying and heartache, but without her advice, without her blunt honesty, I wouldn’t have ever seen the truth.

 

Because of them, I understand how important it is for me to work hard at learning – and to never stop learning.

 

I will be eternally grateful.

 

From the time I spoke to Deborah and Tad, it took me three additional years and seven drafts of novels to get to a standard I was comfortable with publishing. The road doesn’t stop there, either. Each novel, I struggle write better and better.

 

I don’t want people just to read my novels. I want them to experience them.

 

Without Deborah and Tad, I don’t think I would have come to that conclusion.

 

It took ten years from the first draft of a novel I ever completed to finishing and publishing The Eye of God. Storm Without End followed several months later.

 

I wasted so much time because I was lazy. I’ll make up for that – and more.

 

What are your thoughts on indie and traditional publishing?

 

Every author must choose for themselves what path is the correct path – but traditional publication is hard. It’s as hard, if not harder, than self-publishing. It’s a difficult road, no matter what anyone says. There is no easy choice. You either have to invest the money in yourself, or you have to let someone invest money in your efforts.

Either way, you’re investing money – but for the traditional route, you have to play by their rules. But they do bring a lot to the table. There is no denying that. Some traditional publishers are better than others, however, and it’s important that you never forget that.

 

Every author must do what is right for them.

 

Right now, independent publishing is what is right for me.

 

Do you envision Inquisitor as a play, TV series or film? Would you DIY, hire or submit to an indie production company or go traditional?

 

This never crossed my mind. I don’t watch TV. I don’t watch many movies.

 

I would definitely hire someone to do it for me, because I know nothing about making a quality show or movie. It isn’t up my alley.

 

Books are my movies and television shows.

 

Very likely, I’d have to be pitched by someone to create a series – I don’t know I’d ever have the motivation to do it on my own, unless fans really wanted it – and if I had enough fans to generate the royalties needed to pay for such a venture, why not?

 

I don’t mind letting someone creative, someone passionate about my stories, turn them into visual art.

 

But I’m not counting eggs that haven’t been laid yet. If it happens, great!

 

If it doesn’t, I hope my writing is enough to make memorable moments and imagery for my readers.

 

Excerpt #3

 

Caroline was either the best actress I’d ever seen, or she was really dead. I crouched next to her, torn between touching her neck to feel for a pulse and running away before the sweet scent of a fresh kill overwhelmed my restraint.

A clock chimed ten. The power of the full moon slammed into me, tugging at my heart, and tightening my chest. The need to embrace my inner beast and become one with the night quickened my breath.

Scents flooded my nose. Strong perfumes mingled with cologne, and the sweat of hot, living bodies stirred my hunger. I licked my lips, and for one brief moment, imagined the salty sweetness of fresh blood on my tongue.

There was another hunter in the room with me, and they taunted me with their kill. Their prey was either dead or left to die. It was a challenge to the scavengers, to the hunters, and a warning to the prey.

“What do you think?” Mark’s mother asked.

“I think she’s an amazing actress,” I replied, careful to keep my tone light. I rose to my feet. If I grew a tail, I could only hope my gown would hide it long enough for me to slip from the party and find a place to gain control over myself.

Or complete the change and go on a rampage.

Another minute passed in silence. I shook my head. “This would be why I’m not a police officer.”

The Wicked Witch of the West giggled. I shivered at the sound. “I see. Very well, Cinderella. Shall we mingle with the other guests and learn about this terrible, terrible deed?”

“I thought this was when Mark was supposed to come rescue me from a fate worse than death,” I muttered.

Oops. So much for keeping civil. I guess it was inevitable. Bodies brought out the worst in me. Especially when the body wasn’t one of my making. To make matters worse, I couldn’t exactly raise the alarm.

If I did, I’d reveal to those who knew the truth about werewolves and witches that I wasn’t just some human girl after a wealthy boy. Then the Inquisition would find silver old enough to kill me or reduce me to ashes to make certain they purged the world of one more rogue werewolf.

“Why can’t you be wealthy?” Mrs. Livingston lamented.

The old woman’s question caught me by surprise. Had she heard me? Did she think it an amusing quip?

Was it possible the woman actually liked me? Confused at the question, I answered honestly. “Ma’am, who says I’m not? I’m your son’s accountant. Do you really think he’d trust someone who didn’t have access to at least some money with his money?” I glared at the old woman. At least the brewing fight between us distracted me from Caroline’s body a little. “Don’t forget I know exactly how much he makes a year, where he transfers his funds, who owes him how much, and whom he owes. I know how much he’s paid in taxes, and I know how much I saved him last tax season.”

The witch’s mouth dropped open. “Just what—”

“I paid more in taxes than he did last year. I’ll let you do the math. Unless, of course, he learned how to count from you.” I pivoted on a heel and stalked my way towards the refreshment stand.

 

Follow R.J. Blain at G+ and Amazon.

 

Image credit RJ Blain

Executive Director of Talent Supurrvision at R.J. Blain

Release

When will Inquisitor be released? Where will we be able to buy it?

 

Inquisitor releases on May 16, 2014!

 

It will be available on amazon and in print through amazon and createspace. I am on the fence over distribution to bookstores. It depends on how much the title costs – it could be up to $16 for the print version if I distribute via amazon. It is something I’ll decide soon, though.

 

You can follow my author page on Amazon and click the sign up for E-mail notifications link in order to be notified as soon as the book launches!

 

As a tip, there will be a soft launch before the official launch, although I’d love to make Inquisitor a bestseller – if it can get enough sales on its release date.

 

Will it be ebook only or hard copy also? How can we get autographed copies and Inquisitor merchandise?

 

The only way to get an autographed copy of Inquisitor right now is to sign up for the goodreads giveaway. There will be two signed copies available!

 

As for Inquisitor merchandise, I may do a limited print run of the cover art. Follow me on Google+ to see if that becomes a reality.

 

Will you be doing appearances and readings IRL, as well as online? Where and when?

 

Real life readings and appearances aren’t on the schedule right now – I have so much writing to do this year that I can’t dedicate the time touring. Maybe next year…

 

… but for now, I figure the best thing for me and my readers is if I stay home and write so there are more books!

 

 

Closing

 

Any final thoughts?

 

Thank you for having me – this has been a truly fun interview. Now, I have to get back to writing, because these words won’t make themselves appear on the page for some strange reason. . .

 

Thanks so much for joining us today to discuss Inquisitor, R.J. We look forward to your return.

Image credit R.J. Blain

Image credit R.J. Blain

 

Author Bio

RJ Blain suffers from a Moleskine journal obsession, a pen fixation, and a terrible tendency to pun without warning.

When she isn’t playing pretend, she likes to think she’s a cartographer and a sumi-e painter. In reality, she herds cats and a husband. She also has a tendency to play MMOs and other computer games.

In her spare time, she daydreams about being a spy. Should that fail, her contingency plan involves tying her best of enemies to spinning wheels and quoting James Bond villains until she is satisfied.

Follow R.J. Blain at G+ and Amazon.

 

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