Cover Art, New Releases, Romance, Writing Process

UKLGBTChat Knocked Me Up!

BLUES IN THE NIGHT COVER B

How does a single lesbian become impregnated without a sperm donor, sperm bank or Divine Intervention? All it takes is one Twitter chat: #UKLGBTChat. For me, it was the May 31, 2015 episode, which focused on books. That and I was fertile and took no precautions.

CONCEPTION

That fateful evening, I happened into #UKLGBTChat when it had just begun trending. When I learned the topic and heard some of the convo, I felt like I was among kindred spirits bearing compatible DNA: LGBT readers, reviewers and authors who wanted more LGBT in their gay and mainstream books. They shared reading lists for different countries, stating that US authors were doing fairly well at writing diverse books, including LGBT characters of various ages and abilities and genres beyond coming out stories, such as scifi. UK authors still needed to work at it. I forgot to mention my friend LJ Cohen did very nicely at LGBT and racial diversity in composing her YA space opera, DERELICT. But it was when I heard participants say they wanted to see more age and situation diversity, as well as disabilities in their LGBT characters that I felt that first spark of life.

GESTATION

Once the chat was over much too quickly, like many copulations, my book pregnancy – set in my hometown of Lake Charles, LA – sucked up my attention, time and energy. Ordinary daily tasks, like housecleaning, greenskeeping and grocery shopping, suddenly became secondary to the importance of nurturing this new life inside me. I even had difficulty sleeping and suffered from indigestion, from my baby demanding to be written. There was also a lot of loneliness as a hormonal single pregnant mom. Sex scenes, need I say more?

(OK, I will add that neither of my main characters is pregnant – yet. Who knows what will happen in future books?)

When I sat down to make out a grocery list, characters, settings, situations and plotlines sprouted on the pages, like ultrasounds. As I began writing from my notes, the story flourished. Each day its features grew more defined. Being a romance fan and a member of several award-winning authors’ street teams, it was no surprise to me that my book baby was a love child, too. What might surprise some is her complexion and full genre identity: lesbian interracial romance, yet another request from that prophetic episode of #UKLGBTChat.

LABOR & DELIVERY

As babies tend to do, mine decided when it wanted to be born, regardless of recommendations against premature birth. Thankfully, I had assembled my own street team, beginning with those same award-winning authors – now my midwives – to support me through the perilous labor and delivery process. Mackenzie Crowne administered tips on opening paragraphs as the pains began. Mac, Melanie James, Sarah Grimm,  Vonnie Davis, Marie Lavender, Devika Fernando, AJ Nuest, Dyane Forde, Alison Bliss and Betty Olsen were my Lamaze coaches as the cover art, in the form of a guitar pic by Sarah Bromage, began to crown and had to be turned.

As I shared with her about #UKLGBTChat, Marie introduced me to LGBT authors Dianne and Young. It was rather odd to meet new people in the delivery room, but these are two writers you don’t want to pass up, so I was immensely grateful.

S.A. Hunt, D.W. Metz, Paul Bucalo, Air Force historian Shawn Bohannon, and Bronx Pride’s Peter C. Equality Frank gowned up and gave their feedback and encouragement near the final push.

Alas, she got hung up in the birth canal and I had to stop pushing for a bit for Catherine Ryan Howard to coach me through ebook formatting for Amazon, et al. That was sheer torture!!! Thanks to her, I at last held my beautiful new book baby, Blues in the Night, safely in my arms.

So, to all the above and the members of #UKLGBTChat: Host Faye, Nichola, Jess, Marion, Antonia, Julianne, Liz, Vanessa, Debbie, Nina, Queer YA, Sophie, David, Kam, Michelle, L.D., Keren, Chouett, Sara, the Paisley Piranhas and George, a heartfelt and resounding THANK YOU!!! for knocking me up and seeing me and my book baby through this incredible pregnancy! Let me know when you’re ready to get together again. My next book baby’s already a twinkle in my eye. 😉

P.S. As I was writing the wedding proposal scene, set in New Orleans, I wondered how much longer it would take for same-sex marriage to become legal in Louisiana. At last, after Blues in the Night was born in the wee hours of June 15, 2015, eleven days later, the United States Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriages MUST be recognized throughout the country! #LoveWins

 

EXCERPT

Nita Nunez was going to hell. As she and Jo basically had sex in front of the whole church, Nita wondered if it was good for Jo, too. As they joined the band of seasoned bluesmen in performing “Learned How to Lean” for the morning worship service, Nita and Jo were getting into it, acting out the song by angling themselves against each other, sparks flying as their heads and shoulders brushed. “What a fellowship, what a joy divine,” thought Nita as their eyes rested in one another a few beats too long before returning to the congregation.

It was all she could do to keep from plucking the neck of her top and fanning herself as they finished the verse, Jo’s body rocking, her face squinching up as she unleashed her power gospel voice. Certainly everybody could see Nita’s nostrils flaring as she wondered if the handsome black woman in the Sunday go to meeting dress and pumps beside her was gay or not. “I found out if I trust Him, He will provide.” Nita sure hoped so, her mind racing as she tried to figure out how to ask Jo about her sexual preferences over Sunday dinner in the fellowship hall, surrounded by people Nita still barely knew.

That “Nobody Knows I’m a Lesbian” t-shirt would come in real handy right about now, she thought…

BUY Blues in the Night at Amazon:

US: http://www.amazon.com/BLUES-NIGHT-Belinda-Hughes-ebook/dp/B00ZQW7ZNC

UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B00ZQW7ZNC

DE: http://www.amazon.de/gp/product/B00ZQW7ZNC

FR: http://www.amazon.fr/gp/product/B00ZQW7ZNC

ES: https://www.amazon.es/dp/B00ZQW7ZNC

IT: http://www.amazon.it/gp/product/B00ZQW7ZNC

NL: http://www.amazon.nl/gp/product/B00ZQW7ZNC

JP: http://www.amazon.co.jp/gp/product/B00ZQW7ZNC

BR: https://www.amazon.com.br/dp/B00ZQW7ZNC

CA: https://www.amazon.ca/dp/B00ZQW7ZNC

MX: https://www.amazon.com.mx/dp/B00ZQW7ZNC

AU: http://www.amazon.com.au/gp/product/B00ZQW7ZNC

IN: http://www.amazon.in/gp/product/B00ZQW7ZNC

ABOUT the Author

Belinda Y. Hughes is the Louisiana lesbian author of the lesbian interracial romance Blues in the Night, Living Proof and Confessions of a Red Hot Veggie Lover 2, a lacto ovo vegetarian cookbook. She enjoys reading, writing, beading, baking and hiking in the woods with her old dog. Belinda is eager to write more LGBT books in a variety of genres.

FOLLOW Belinda at: 

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Guest Posts

Guest Post: Adventures in Indie Publishing (Dyane Ford)

DYANE FORD cover art

It’s been three years since I completed my book, The Purple Morrow, followed by a year spent looking for ways to get it published and distributed, followed by another seeing how things went from there. With how simple self-publishing has become over the last few years, you’re probably wondering why I didn’t just skip all that and jump instead onto Create Space or Kindle and do it myself.

The truth is I did try. But years ago, when I was ready to get my book into the hands of readers, the self-publishing companies weren’t as user-friendly as they are now. I tinkered with various platforms: Blurb, Create Space, and Kindle and got the same problem every time: a major case of frustration. I had NO idea how to format. It became so irritating that I abandoned the whole thing and ran without passing go to a company who could do it for me. Now it’s years later and thankfully, times have changed. So has the ease with which one can format and upload their books to a variety of publishing/distribution platforms.

About a month ago, I ended the contract with the company that had published and distributed my book. We agreed on a month’s transition period, and in that time I got busy.  Below are some of the things I learned as well as some tips I thought worth sharing:

Step 1: About ending an existing contract

If you have an existing contract with a publisher, read it carefully to make sure you follow the terms for termination. In fact, make sure there is a clause that ensures you can terminate the contract, should the need ever arise. Try to be respectful. If you are breaking the contract, even if you have the right to, remember that the publisher might be on the losing end of their investment. How you deal with them might make or break a smooth termination: you want them to cooperate, so be nice.

Step 2: Finding a site to publish and distribute the book.

I started with Smashwords, and I’m so glad I did. After numerous failed attempts at formatting in the past, I was stressed about attempting this. But here’s what I did to ease the pain:

a) I asked for help.

I put out a general call on Google+ asking for tips and suggestions from other Smashwords (SW) users and luckily, a couple of friends responded. They shared some of their know-how and also made themselves available to help me if I needed more coaching. It’s good to have friends.

b) I read and reread and reread the SW Style Guide and Template. This might seem excessive, but having a good understanding of what SW expects and why makes the investment worthwhile (i.e., because they upload to various reader platforms, having a simple template that is compatible with all of them makes it easy to gain access to many distributors with one template). The Style Guide is great. There are step-by-step explanations, examples, screenshots, etc. to make things clear. Even when I had problems formatting my chapter headings, I applied the Style used in their Template to my document and poof! Working chapter heads! There are many ways to format your piece, but this one worked for me.

Note, however, the only thing I didn’t like about the SW experience is that they don’t have a Preview option, which means you have to upload the book and then download it on one of the various platform formats in order to see what the final product actually looks like. But that’s a small price to pay for an overall good experience.

Now, via SW, my book is available on Nook, Kobo, iBooks, SW, and for download in EPUB, mobi (Kindle), etc. That’s bang for your buck.  And, since the manuscript was already formatted for Kindle, to get it distributed on Amazon, all I had to do was upload the same formatted file and voilà! Done.

Step 3: Dealing with Create Space

Alright, this was a different beast. I felt a different sort of stress about this because people pay more for a print book, so I wanted to make sure that the end result looked as much as possible like something that came from a traditional publisher. Not knowing anything about typesetting, what was I going to do?

Create Space (CS) now has a formatted template. Essentially, you can copy and paste your document right into it, and your front and back matter are all laid out for you, only needing a few tweaks to personalize. This was a wonderful discovery!

Still, there were issues: the template only provided ten formatted chapters, and I learned the hard way that if you paste chapters into the wrong formatted section weird things happen. Entire sections appear halfway down the page, or page numbers stop suddenly or repeat, etc. And the chapter heads – ! I won’t go there.

I didn’t find a lot of help in the CS forums but Word’s ‘tell me more’ feature on the .docx version is wonderful. Again, I found screen shots and detailed step-by-step explanations that helped me figure out how to deal with messed-up headers and footers, and the other formatting problems I had. By the end, the final version looked just about as good as the version I’d paid for. And I’d done it myself.

Admittedly, this all requires time, patience, and a willingness to learn. It took about a week to wrestle the ebook version, and about as much to handle CS—probably because I had gained some basic formatting knowledge from having dealt with the ebook.

Oh, one more thing. I admit I had outside help with the images, both for the ebook and the print version. This was beyond me, especially the print version, so I asked my husband, a graphic designer, to handle it. That said, SW and Amazon offer templates authors can use, as well as design services, should you need help.

So, overall, preparing my book for both ebook and print formats was a lot less painful than expected, and it even left me with a huge sense of accomplishment. All it took was a willingness to try.

Thanks for reading! What have your self-publishing experiences been like? Do you have any tips or warnings to share? I’d love to hear them.

DYANE FORD author pic

Author Bio

Dyane Forde’s love of writing began with an early interest in reading and of words in general. These sparked a life-long desire to write all types of things, including short stories, novels, flash fiction, and poetry. To her, every story represents new challenges to tackle, as well as a means by which she can connect with people on a level deeper than intellect. Forde is the author of the adult fantasy novel, The Purple Morrow, and its upcoming sequel, Wolf’s Bane. Dyane also hosts a writing blog at www.droppedpebbles.wordpress.com where she welcomes chatting with readers and other writers. Stop by and drop her a line!

Links

Blog: Dropped Pebbles

Book: The Purple Morrow

Amazon Author Page

Facebook

Twitter

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Cover Art, Free Books, Giveaways, Guest Posts, New Releases, Paranormal, Thriller, Uncategorized, Writing Technique

Guest Post: The Writing Life Broken Down (Rochelle Campbell)

Today’s guest blogger is Rochelle Campbell, author of Fury From Hell, a paranormal thriller about good versus evil. She’s worked for the New York Times and been published in Bartleby Snopes and Lit Art magazines. Rochelle is excited to reveal the cover of her upcoming third novel in this post, as well as sharing her personal insights on the writing process, mentoring writers and how to become a successful author. I have long admired Rochelle’s writing posts on Twitter, so if you want to see how irresistible, engaging tweets are done, be sure to follow her there, at her writing blog and at Goodreads. In addition, Rochelle is graciously doing a giveaway – 7 FREE copies of Fury From Hell, the first installment in the From Hell series! Be sure to enter and share this post with all your book friends. – Belinda

 

What’s your writing process?

My writing process leans towards the left brain once the idea for the story is formed.  However, the initial inspiration for a story is as it should be – very right-brained.

I tend to like a very detailed outline that uses six points.  They are:

            Beginning

            Introduction of Conflict

            Complication of Conflict

            Climax

            Resolution of Conflict

            Ending

 

I flesh out each of the six points with at least a paragraph, or two.  Then, I add a major dramatic question (MDQ) for the story and/or the main character.  This is what the book spins on.  In other words, the theme, or underlying current running beneath the story.  The MDQ addition was something I learned at the Gotham Writers Course I took this past spring.  My instructor, Michael Davis, eloquently taught us that we must give our characters strong enough reasons and inner conflicts to engage them and the reader.

After the crucial portion is written down I focus on the characters, their names and relations to each other within the story world.  This step will often dictate the setting and/or the environment that the story will take place in.

With all of this information, I then feel comfortable enough to begin writing.  With this method, even though I know a lot about the story going in, the story and the characters still move, ebb and flow all on their own, making the writing of the story fascinating.

Have you ever considered anyone a mentor?

My writing mentor is Jacqueline Lichtenberg a phenom in the world of scifi fan fiction.  Ms. Lichtenberg is a Hugo Award Winner for Best Fan Writer (1974), a Locus Award Winner for Best Science Fiction Novel (First Channel, 1981), she coined the term Intimate Adventure and is a Galaxy Award Winner Spirituality in Science Fiction for her second novel, Unto Zeor Forever.  I could go on and on including that Ms. Lichtenberg is the main author of Star Trek Lives! And she is the creator of the Sime~Gen Universe, a large vibrant fanfic community.

 

Are you reading any interesting books at the moment?

I just completed reading Deborah Harkness’ Book of Life, the 3rd book in the All Souls series.  It is a paranormal romantic thriller with aspects of horror.  To set the stage, imagine the world is inhabited by humans, of course, but in and among us are other creatures that blend in – or try to – witches, daemons and vampires.  There’s a Covenant the governs how these creatures can and should behave with humans and with human affairs.  This series explores what happens when the Covenant is disregarded because of greed, personal gain, jealousy and power.

Currently, I am reading a friend’s children’s chapter book called, “Grandma You’re Dead!”  It is the funniest premise – a 13-year-old girl is visited by her deceased grandmother who needs her grandaughter’s help to solve a 15-year-old mystery.  The catch?  The teenager cannot tell her mother anything, or ask anyone for help!  It is already shaping up to be a sweet read.

 

What are some of the best tools available today for writers, especially those just starting out?

There are a myriad of tools, software, books, journals and periodicals for writers.  For me, one of the best software packages for the creation of stories, and for help in structuring the story is Literature and Latte’s Scrivener.  You can create a story from start to finish using this program and brainstorm ideas with it as well.

The other ‘tools’ I find most helpful are the writer’s chosen writing implements: iPad, computer, pen and paper, laptop, etc.  Yes, I’m being facetious but a writer…writes.  The truly important tool is to find a supportive group of writers who can provide feedback on your work during all stages.  This group can help the new writer develop his/her voice and writing style while allowing the writer to express him/herself without prejudice.

Some great sites for a community of writers who can offer critique of your work are:

Zoetrope.com

WritersCarnival.ca

Wattpad.com

A writer generally develops more quickly when s/he has direct communication and connection with people of like mind.

 

What do you believe contributes to making a writer successful?

A writer is successful because s/he does not stop writing.  It’s as simple as that.  If you love writing, the act of writing, the thought of writing and all of the editing, formatting, grammar rules, punctuation and style usage best practices are all you think about then you are a successful writer.  You cannot call yourself a writer if you do not write or, if you do not read.  I suppose that is the philosophical answer.

The practical answer of what it takes to become a successful writer, in terms of dollars and cents (not, sense J) is a lot of work to develop your social platform.  These days, if you seek literary representation, you will be asked if you have a social media platform and how large it is.  While this may not be  a deal-breaker for most agents, it is a major factor.

On another note, if you are an indie writer and then decide to try to publish the traditional route, your indie book sales will be reviewed and taken into consideration of whether the agent, or the publishing company will want to take you on as a client.  If you book did not sell well, they know they have an uphill battle of creating a platform for you so you can sell books for them.

You can see ‘success’ can mean different things as a writer.  Ultimately, you have to define what you want, set your goals and then judge your success for yourself based upon what you wanted not what someone else wanted for you.

 

What do you love about independent publishing?

As an independent (Indie) author I have the freedom to tell the story I want to tell without having to worry overly much about fitting into a genre, or category.  I also get to choose which book covers will grace the front of my books.  For me, this alone is worth the extra work of creating a book worth reading!   (I hope! J)

Do you have any advice for other writers?

The only advice I can share would be to write the things that bubble out of you and slide through your fingers onto the page, or the screen.

 

Do not second-guess yourself.  Get that first-draft pulled together without any editing from your mind.  Once you have a full first draft, put it away and let it ‘rest’ for about 3 – 4 weeks.  Read other books, watch movies, go on vacation; do whatever but don’t look at your manuscript.

 

Once you’ve let the book rest, read through it with a red pen (or whatever color you’d like).  Adjust the story as you see fit and hen begin working on editing and revising.  Give to your writing group, or writing partner for critique before sending to an agent, or publisher.

 

FFH Author Pic2_Aug 2014

 

You’ve told us about your writing process, we touched on indie publishing and resources for writers but we don’t know who you are as a writer.  Can you tell us a bit about you?

 

I have been writing on and off for over 20 years.  To date, the off-writing portion seems to have provided fodder for the writing phase of my career as I currently have, five novel-length works in progress.  Early in my career, I did legwork for The New York Times and freelanced for a number of local and regional newspapers and magazines.  However, my calling – fiction writing – became apparent after my two-year writers’ mentoring course with Jacqueline Lichtenberg in the early 2000’s.  From that course, several short stories emerged that readers and fellow writers urged me to develop into longer works.

After a quiescent decade, story ideas abounded and are being developed and scheduled for bringing into fully fleshed out written form.

Along the way, two short stories have been published by literary journals.  They are

 

Chambray Curtains Blowing in the Wind

[http://www.bartlebysnopes.com/chambraycurtains.htm] and,

 

How Charlie Ray Saved My Life

[http://litartmag.com/issue2/story2.php].

 

Fury From Hell is technically my third full-length novel.  I have read that a writer’s first novel (the very very very first one written on parchment paper because you were in the kitchen cooking when the idea struck…) is rarely ever publishable.  You generally catch on by the 3/4/5th book!  That is, unless you have help.

 

 

Book Blurb:

Fury From Hell is a paranormal thriller about good vs. evil.  Here, the good is in the form of Detective Jennifer Holden, a homicide cop that is haunted by her own personal demons of a murder she committed when she was just a teenager.  The trauma she suffered at the hands of social agency after agency hardened Jennifer into a staunch atheist making her gun and her bank account the only things she truly believes in.

We meet Detective Holden, shortly before she begins working on her first solo murder case.  The victim is Kyma Barnes who was brutally raped and killed. As Kyma’s soul leaves her body, a demon being called by a coven of dark witches at nearby Prospect Park, is drawn to the dying woman by her death throes.  Fury Abatu offers to avenge Kyma’s death.  The price?  The dying woman’s soul.  Kyma gives it gladly to ensure the man who killed her pays dearly.

At the crime scene, Jennifer becomes possessed by Fury Abatu.  Hosts usually die a violent death within weeks of the initial possession.  Detective Holden does not know she is possessed…

With her own demise on the line, Jennifer must fight for her life and her very soul – something she’s not sure she even believes in – to rid herself of the dark force surrounding her and her friends.

Can Jennifer be saved from the demon?  Will she be able to find the faith to believe in something greater than herself and her material things?

Read this first installment of the From Hell series to find out!

 

Where can readers find you?

 

Blog:

http://thenotebookblogairy.wordpress.com/

 

GoodReads:

http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3434531.Rochelle_Campbell

 

Twitter:

https://twitter.com/NotebkBlogairy

 

Where can readers purchase Fury From Hell?

 

US: http://www.amazon.com/Fury-Hell-Rochelle-Campbell-ebook/dp/B00NE24S2W

UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Fury-Hell-Rochelle-Campbell-ebook/dp/B00NE24S2W

 

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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

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/ljcohen

Twitter: https://twitter.com/lisajanicecohen

Tumblr: http://www.ljcohen.tumblr.com

Google+: https://www.google.com/+LisaCohen

email LJ: lisa@ljcohen.net

 

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