Book Reviews, Comedy, Satire, Scifi

BOOK REVIEW: There Goes the Galaxy (Jenn Thorson)

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Douglas Addams fans rejoice! If you enjoy avant garde scifi satire, like Dr. Who, the original Star Wars movie, and the Restaurant at the End of the Universe, you’ll tumble down the rabbit hole into author Jenn Thorson’s world of misadventures and misfits. Life As We Know It is in danger. Only everyman Bertram, a grad student kidnapped en route to his PhD by an alien Indiana Jones and now bouncing like a human pinball through the Greater Communicating Universe, can save us. Help!

EXCERPT:

Bertram came-to lying at the bottom of a ramp, and any embarrassment at having fainted was nicely smoothed by terror, as the ramp rattled to life and grinded its way back inside the spacecraft.

He leapt to his feet, fear of abandonment tossing aside his nausea, prickling limbs, worries about breathable atmosphere and any other more practical concerns. Being abducted by aliens was bad enough. But being abducted and then dumped off on a planet that wasn’t even yours? He found himself waving his arms at the craft, a lumpy, graceless ship that bore more resemblance to a brachiosaurus in need of a diet than Earthen concepts of alien transport. “Wait! Wait!” he shrieked. “Don’t go!”

He sprinted to the slowly retracting ramp, getting a foot up onto it, then another, before the ramp slipped out from under him, burying itself into several thousand tons of metal. Leaping to his feet, Bertram pounded on the ship’s hull with bruising fervor, before realizing that all had gone silent. No rumble of rockets. No whine of turbine.

Bertram stood. He paused.

“We don’t have big skulls you know,” a voice said from behind him. And Bertram Ludlow turned, squinting up in the burning sunlight to see his extra-terrestrial kidnapper. Under the blazing suns, the stranger’s short, untamed hair looked precisely as full of white light as his clothes didn’t. And in a single spidery hand, he clutched some sort of remote control.

Bertram’s knees wobbled. “Uh…?”

“Big skulls,” repeated the alien conversationally. “We don’t have them. And very few of us are actually green. That,” he continued, “should be made abundantly clear.” He dropped the gadget into a pocket at his thigh.

“My God,” Bertram breathed. Because now it was clear. Now he understood that this was never about alien abduction. It was never about stun rays and parallel evolution, worm-holes and other too-slim probabilities. It was about only one thing…

Bertram Ludlow had cracked under the pressure of getting his Ph.D. It had been known to happen. He’d just expected to pick up on some warning signs first.

“It’s what you Tryflings are always flapping on about, aren’t you?” persisted the figment of Bertram’s imagination, wiping his brow. He patted his pockets and, after one trial-and-error, withdrew a pair of sophisticated-looking binoculars. “Aliens: the hairless little slaggards with big heads and eyes, dialing home and giving everyone enemas? I mean, you people, you’ve got the universe just dripping with rampaging acid-spitters, half-breed progeny, and lizard babies, don’t you?”

He peered through the binoculars, scanning the vast empty horizon. “In my experience, only one species bears lizard babies. And you wouldn’t want to call them that. Unless you were up for one fragging huge fight… Ah! Hello—there we are!” The man tucked the binoculars back in a pocket and motioned. “Come on, then.”

“Why? Where?” Bertram shielded his eyes. The rust-colored landscape was bone-dry, exhaustively rocky straight to the horizon and completely devoid of life. It didn’t even have a smell. There were no wafting blossoms, or the territorial musk of skulking beats. If there were a smell at all, it was the scent of hot. The only sounds? The crunch of gravel underfoot.

But his abductor just pointed to an area every bit as flat and rocky as the rest, differing only by the long, mysterious shadow that fell beyond it.

And as they approached, Bertram glimpsed two figures—rather big-skulled, he thought—until closer inspection proved them to be their own distorted reflections in the wall of a tower.

The tower was rendered virtually invisible by mirrored glass. Its walls were built on an outward angle, reflecting the earth below. And its roof was angled to catch the sky. From a different position now, the structure was almost blinding.

A tower. Bertram had expected more from his subconscious than such blatant Freudianism. An age-old symbol, representing any of a variety of control issues, he supposed, though none sprung to mind for him personally. At twenty-eight, single, and with his own key to the psych lab, Bertram Ludlow had all the freedom necessary for academic excellence. He’d wrap up the thesis this semester, defend and then, barring some unforeseen setback—like, say, a severe psychotic breakdown—graduate to a prime research position in the university of his choice.

There Goes the Galaxy grabbed me from the get-go, much in the same way Bertram was grabbed in his sock feet by Rollie. And unlike Bertram, who at one point is abandoned at an alien spaceport, author Jenn Thorson never released me, not even at the end of the book, when I was ready for the second course, the sequel The Purloined Number. The pacing is outstanding, with the two leads on the run and time running out, it’s mostly fast, but things like characters preparing in intriguing ways for the next scene still happen in the lulls, so there’s never a dull moment. Infopills between a few chapters give necessary background info in the style of Ben Bova, but more humorous..Plenty of celebrity references provide belly laughst in the course of this satire, much in the manner of Futurama and the Simpsons, only better! This book lasted me about a week, reading on breaks, at mealtimes and bedtime. I’ve now read it three times and probably will again. It’s action-packed fun, like a graphic novel, only it’s a word comic you can’t put down. For scifi lovers, it’s a gift that will never be forgotten!

Buy There Goes the Galaxy at Amazon.

DISCLOSURE: I bought my copy of this book on my own dime. I received no compensation whatsoever for this review. I just love the hell out of this book and I can’t shut up.

Belinda Y. Hughes is the author of Blues in the Night, Confessions of a Red Hot Veggie Lover 1 and 2 and Living Proof. Her next lesbian romance, a sequel to Blues in the Night featuring a disabled veteran U.S. Army nurse and a younger attorney, will be released Thursday, November 12, 2015, so watch this blog. Belinda enjoys classic rock and chocolate, candles and incense, bubble baths and beading.

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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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