Meet Science Fiction writer L J Cohen

Today I have a guest! 🙂  Writer L J Cohen has kindly let me interview her. She’s just launched her latest book, DREADNOUGHT AND SHUTTLE, book 3 of the Halcyone Space series of science fiction space opera adventures that began with DERELICT and continued with ITHAKA RISING.

Here’s the book description:

When a materials science student gets kidnapped, she’s drawn into a conflict between the young crew of a sentient spaceship, a weapons smuggling ring, and a Commonwealth-wide conspiracy and must escape before her usefulness as a hostage expires. 

Lisa has agreed to give away an ebook copy of one of her books right here on my blog. To participate, leave a comment stating which of her books you’d like, if you win the draw 🙂 We’ll pick a winner in 7 day’s time. (If you don’t know which book to pick, see below! There is a short description of each.)


Do you write for a particular age group? Who is your ideal reader?
When I started writing, I thought of myself as writing YA novels because so many of my protagonists were older teens. But my stories are transitioning to less true coming of age tales than speculative fiction stories that have some young adult characters. My idea reader is a teen or adult who enjoys character-based adventures in fantasy or futuristic settings. Given the emotional stakes, I wouldn’t recommend most of my books to readers younger than 12, even if they are strong readers, though that is something I leave up to parents/guardians to decide.

Which of your books would you recommend a reader should start with? What is it about?
By the time this gets posted, I will have six novels published. There are three possible entry points to my work: the standalone urban fantasy FUTURE TENSE, THE BETWEEN, book 1 of my fantasy/fae changeling series (Changeling’s Choice), or DERELICT, book 1 of my SF/Space Opera series (Halcyone Space). However, I do attempt to write my series novels in such a way that readers can start anywhere and still have a fully enjoyable experience.

In FUTURE TENSE, a 17 year old foster kid struggles to keep the people around him safe from the danger he glimpses in his prescient visions. THE BETWEEN is the story of what happens when Oberon and Titania pick the wrong changeling to become a pawn in their war and that young girl clings to her stubborn humanity. In DERELICT, a group of teens stranded on a sentient spaceship must work together or risk being killed when the ship’s AI wakes believing it’s still fighting the war that damaged it decades ago.

(You can find all of these books at Lisa’s Amazon Author page)

What qualities do you like using in your characters?
That’s a good question! I like to give my characters traits that have both positive and negative features. For example, Ro Maldonado, the main character in DERELICT and Lydia Hawthorne, the main character in THE BETWEEN both have the traits of stubbornness/persistence. Depending on circumstances, this is either a good thing or a very bad thing!

Jem Durbin, also from the Halcyone Space novels, is curious and creative. While he’s great at problem solving, he doesn’t have the maturity to know that sometimes asking questions can be dangerous. It lands him in some very hot water in ITHAKA RISING. Matt Garrison, from FUTURE TENSE has an almost overdeveloped sense of responsibility. While he never runs away from owning his problems, he also doesn’t let himself rely on others or ask for help, which is nearly his undoing.

I think if a character has only positive or negative character traits, it makes for boring reading.

Some people believe that it’s important that a book have a message beyond just the story itself. How do you feel about that?
I don’t think you can avoid imbuing your writing with messages – writing is only partly a conscious process and our subconscious mind is a very tricky bastard. However, I don’t start out trying to embed a particular message in my writing. Do my stories have a message beyond that of the story itself? I’m sure they do. And those messages are probably as much a result of what I put into the story as what the reader reads into it. I do think I have recurrent motifs and themes that show up in all of my work: identity, trust, and choice. Others don’t get to choose your identity. Trust starts with trusting yourself before you can trust others. And choices made out of fear are almost never the right ones. I’d love to know what messages others see in my work.

Is there anything that you have a “chip on the shoulder”about as a writer?
Stories that rely on tricking the reader to work. I hated The Life of Pi. It was beautifully written, immersive, original, and magical. All up to the final chapter where the author basically popped out and said ‘Ha, tricked you. Aren’t I clever?’ It was one of those ‘and it was all a dream’ endings which completely break my trust in the narrative and in the author. I haven’t read a single other word Yan Martell has written.

What are you reading at the moment? Is it any good?
I’m currently reading several manuscripts for critique and can’t name them. The three last published books I read were Aftershock, Rick Wayne’s episode 5 of The Minus Faction (loved it!), James S.A. Coreys’s Abaddon’s Gate (very good), and Audrey Faye’s Grower’s Omen (loved it!).

I’ve come to a place in my leisure reading that if I am not enjoying a story, I stop reading it. Life’s too short and there are too many books out there. And just because I abandon a book, it doesn’t mean it’s not good, just that I didn’t really enjoy it. There is so much subjectivity in what makes a book good and what I love may not be what someone else does.

Thank you for inviting me to your blog!

More about Lisa:

LJ Cohen is a novelist, poet, blogger, ceramics artist, and relentless optimist. After almost twenty-five years as a physical therapist, LJ now uses her anatomical knowledge and myriad clinical skills to injure characters in her science fiction and fantasy novels. She lives in the Boston area with her family, two dogs, and the occasional international student. DREADNOUGHT AND SHUTTLE (book 3 of the SF/Space Opera series Halcyone Space), is her sixth novel. LJ is a member of SFWA, Broad Universe, and the Independent Publishers of New England.

Some links to LJ Cohen:

Twitter: @lisajanicecohen


“Teaching and Amusing” the work of Ermanno Libenzi

One of the amazing things about having a blog is that every now and then, the people you write about, write back!  Imagine my delight in getting an email from Ermanno Libenzi, the author of quite a few of the books that were my absolute, all-time favorites when I was a little girl.  You might have seen my post on his book “Ernest in the Wild West” which you can see here and which drew a lovely conversation in the comments, from people all over the world who love those books just as much as I do.

Ermanno tells me there is a chance that these books might be republished.  How amazing would that be!  So I’m honored to  host a guest post here by Ermanno Libenzi, in which he reminds us of who he is, and why he wrote those books in the first place.  If you are interested to see more of Ermanno’s books, here is a link to some of them.


Autobiographical notes.

I was born in Milan, Italy, and grew up amid printed paper. My father was a journalist at  the “Corriere della Sera”, the leading Italian newspaper, and his  home library room was full not only of books, but also of magazines and newspapers of various nationalities. I was terribly curious to know the meaning of all those big written words I saw in his magic room. I’m sure that it was this curiosity which pressed me to become an early reader.

I began, of course, with the first elementary picture books, then I passed to fairy tales, soon I discovered the joys of comic strips, and through them  I reached the vast world of adventure books: pirates, cow-boys, explorers were my first unforgettable heroes. Years later, I made those stories live again in three hilarious children’s books I wrote: “Robin and the Pirates”, the story of a smart little boy who finds himself on board of a pirate vessel,  and the two adventures of Ernest, a funny gentleman, photographer and explorer. In the first book he wanders  through the astonishing  mysteries of Africa, in the second one, he crosses the savage world  of the Wild West. I entrusted the genius of illustration Adelchi Galloni with the task of realizing at his best the three books’ drawings.  I can say that he really  managed to  bring the imagery and language of comics into the sphere of art.


One day, exploring my father’s bookcases, by chance I opened the Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. That was for me the entrance door to the fascinating world  of the great European and American novels.

In my opinion, nothing can help a child, and later a boy, to acquire a complete cultural and sentimental education more than an early reading of these masterpieces, when our soul is clean as a white sheet of paper, and our personality is quickly developing. Reading great books is really the best food for our spirit. Moreover, the literary masterpieces  can teach us how to give full expression  to our thoughts and sentiments through the language, both written and spoken.

Thanks to all the printed paper of my childhood,  I started writing  and publishing books  when I was still very young. Everything is new, when you are in your twenties. No conventions bind your fantasy, no obligations, no commonplaces block your creativity, and sometimes  the results  of this state of grace are surprising.

I remember that when I was 25 years old,  a little, sorrowful  idea had been  turning over in my mind for a long time. I thought that it was so pleasant  to go around riding a bicycle or a motorbike.  So pleasant but unfortunately also so dangerous.  Every year a dreadful number of young people  are victims all over the world in road accidents. I thought that writing a book on that argument could certainly be an useful project. The real problem was the way I could transform a boring Road Safety manual into a readable and maybe agreeable children’s book. I thought that the best thing I could do was to keep my hand very light, to be cheerful  but giving affordable tips, and above all to avoid anxiety-inducing lessons, which could only frighten readers.  A fearful, hesitating driver is constantly in danger, more or less like a reckless driver.

After the book was published, it happened an incredible thing.  It won the “Premio Bancarellino”, the main Italian literary prize dedicated to children’s literature. Simply, I couldn’t believe it. Yet that prize was above suspicion, because its jury was, and still is, composed by hundreds of young readers coming from all the Italian regions.

My explanation of the mystery was that it was just this unconventional kind of jury which allowed my book to win the prize. I was on the same unconventional wavelength as them, while a jury made of lofty critics never could admit a manual for young cyclist into the elite of Italian children’s literature.

Nevertheless I felt a little bit guilty: my light-hearted manual had prevailed over demanding biographies and committed historical novels… I decided to redeem myself. Four years later, I managed to win the same prize again with a serious book based on true historical episodes happened in Italy during the Second World War.


In the following years I divided my professional activity among editorial work, journalism and children’s books writing.

I wrote about thirty children’s books of various subjects:  tales, picture books,  young adult science fiction, short stories, historical and scientific non fiction.

My Italian publishers were Mondadori, Garzanti and Vallecchi. Abroad, my books were published  by Hamlyn in the United Kingdom, Platt & Munk in the United States, Nathan and Sarbacane in France, Duculot in Belgium, SĂŒdwest Verlag in Germany, Turbine Forlaget in Sweden and Danmark, Lasten Kerkus in Finland, Beijing Timebook Culture Spread in China, Holp Shuppan and Rippu Shobo in Japan, Orell FĂŒssli Verlag  In Switzerland.

First of all, I always tried to stick at the basic duty of every narrator: to entertain, to fascinate his readers – both children and adults, i.e. their parents – with  amusing and/or engaging stories. At the same time, I always tried to pursue a moral aim in my work, yet carefully trying to avoid moralism. In particular, I always cultivated  a strong interest in ecology, environmentalism and human rights. As a journalist, I wrote many articles in defence of animals, particularly against hunting.  Last, but not least, I did my best to keep in mind  that a storyteller has  a fantastic opportunity. He  can deliver – without appearing to do so – a lot of sound principles. Ancient Romans,  two thousand years ago,  called this pedagogical concept “docendo ludere”, that means  “teaching and amusing”.  I hope that this can be my motto.




Guest Post by JD Savage: The Sequel – How Much from the Previous Book is Too Much?

Today’s post is a guest post by writer JD Savage, author of “The Seeds“.  His topic is one that I’m dealing with myself at the moment – how much information about the previous book should one include in the sequel?

JD’s post is part of the Literary + Blog Tour.  Literary+ is a writer based project brought together and lead by Shen Hart. It brings together passionate, quality self-published writers to help each other promote their work, bringing more readers to every member. It was sparked by the simple fact that there are many top quality self-published authors being over-looked because they do not have the time and resources to efficiently and effectively market and promote themselves. With ambition and passion, Literary+ will take its members to the heights they deserve through a tight-knit community of like-minded writers.


The Sequel 
– How Much from the Previous Book is Too Much?

I’m currently working on a sequel to my first novel. I had had an idea that was really about things that happened. As I really focused on writing it, I discovered the characters hiding within it, and the story evolved into things that happened to them, and how those events changed them.

So, I’m writing the sequel. Of course, I want the reader to be so intrigued with this book that they will turn around and pick up the first one as well. In order to do that, I plan to include just enough of the details from the first book to make it enticing.

But, how much is just enough?

Here’s a shocker
 as a writer, I am plagued by doubts, (I know, it’s just me. You, on the other hand, are fully formed and confident in your abilities). When I feel the weight of such indecision, I turn to research. I tried the major search engine, (no, not the one Microsoft pays TV and movie actors to use
 the other one), but I couldn’t find the magic answer to my question of ‘How Much is Too Much?’

Plenty on exposition, plenty on back story, but nothing really quoting research on this particular problem. So, I went to the source
 people who love to read.

If there is one thing social media is good for, (besides snark and cute kittens), it’s getting people to share their opinions. I am lucky enough to be connected with some pretty smart people, people who are writers and, better still, voracious readers. I put the question to them, and got some pretty solid advice. Here is what I learned.

Different works require different levels of previous details. A novel that is more of a character study requires less back story in book two, with just enough so that the reader can see the progression of the characters. Books where the story is more focused on plot development may require a bit more, so the changes ahead can be fully appreciated.

Along those same lines, books that follow characters in different story lines, like crime drama or detective novels, need the barest explanations and then only if it’s relevant to the story at hand.

Book Two should be able to stand on its own and still be part of the series. The details from the first book should be woven into the narrative in a way that enriches the reader’s experience. Slowing them down or slamming on the brakes to explain what happened in Book One is a serious no-no.

For editors, this can be a particularly vexing problem. Editor extraordinaire Laurie Laliberte mentions the unique experience of getting a bit lost if there isn’t enough of the original in the story to have current developments make sense. The key is to make each book a good book. A reader who is intrigued enough to want to learn more is good. A reader who is confused is gone.

The most common response was simply that the reader wants just enough to know ‘why’. They don’t want large chunks of Book Two to be rehashed elements of the first book. If they’ve read the first one, they get bored right quick with all the explanations. If they haven’t, you will lose them when they read Book One and find that they know all of this already. As Shen Hart, leader of the Literary Plus group on Google Plus explains so succinctly, ”I don’t want to spend half of book two being reminded what happened in book one.”

The overarching advice here is simply, “Entertain me. Don’t bore me.”

I was humbled to have such great advice, freely given. I read each word many times and hope to do right by the reader. I will take this advice to heart, and I hope you will, too.

My friend Ellen summed it all up for me. “I have already read part one
 I want more, not a refresher course.”
So get busy.

To find out more about JD Savage and his writing, here are some links:

The Story Trap cover finally finished

I’ve finally finished the cover for my book “The Story Trap”.  I changed her eyebrows and ears, added more chains and leaves, and changed the background to the lettering as well as some changes to the colours used.  I’m done now.  What a process!

There is going to be a print edition this time so I had to do the spine and back cover as well 🙂

If you would like to be notified when this book is launched, you can join my “new release” mailing list at this link.

I will not share your information with anyone.  You won’t receive many mails from me – I only send a notification when a new book is launched, and you can unsubscribe whenever you like 🙂

A strangely comforting trauma

I’ve been very sick (flu!) and very busy, but at last have time for a quick review of a remarkable book:

The Stress of Her Regard by Tim Powers.

You just know that things are going to go bad from the moment when a very drunk Michael Crawford, on the night before his wedding, puts his wedding ring on the finger of an ancient female statue. In the middle of a stormy night. For safekeeping. He has reason to regret that decision very soon.

This book is not for the faint hearted. These vampires may sparkle at times, but they bite hard too.  And yet they are not just evil monsters. They fit into our world with Tim Powers’s convincing mixture of science, magic and poetry.
It also features real historical characters such as Byron, Keats, Shelly and Mary Shelly. In Tim Powers’s reality there is a close link between vampires and the poetic muse, and some poets are willing to put up with quite a lot of danger if it keeps them writing.

This is a cruel book. Fingers are shot or bitten off, throats are cut, eyes are gouged and many of these wounds are self inflicted. As with the other Powers’s books, you are taught very early on that the characters are not safe and wont be rescued at the last moment. This makes things a lot more tense and exciting, and in the end, also very moving. The hero and heroine are mauled and savaged and yet they survive. Despite being traumatised and permanently scarred, they remain true to some deep part of themselves, and to one another. I found that strangely comforting.

An interview with author Debora Geary

Something a little different for my blog, an author interview.  Debora Geary, author of  “A Modern Witch” and “A Hidden Witch” was kind enough to answer some of my questions.
I’ve only read two of your books – “A Modern Witch” and “A Hidden Witch”.  In both of these I was struck by the importance of family and the bonds of friendship between the characters.  While some of them enjoy their personal space, in most cases they come to their rights when they are surrounded by friends and family. In fact, the strongest magic is created by several withes supporting one another’s skills. Why this emphasis on togetherness?

It’s where the books went.  I started off with three witches in three different parts of the world – doesn’t sound like a recipe for family and togetherness, does it?  But then, as I started to write Nell’s character, she needed a family.  So I gave her some kids, and a brother – and they rather insisted on taking over the story.  By book two, I knew what to expect, so Moira’s Nova Scotia clan wasn’t a surprise any more.
When I look back on the first two books, I can’t imagine them without that strong current of family and community.  But when I sat down to write A Modern Witch, I thought I was writing a book about witches and magic on the Internet.  The rest came from trying to learn a little more about the characters in my head.  It’s ironic – I’m actually quite a solitary person…
Quite a few of the characters are very young, and yet they play as important a role in the plot as the adult characters. In fact, the young witches are taken very seriously by the adults, and often given quite adult responsibilities. Does that reflect your own attitude?

The Wild Shore by Kim Stanley Robinson

It’s been a while since I’ve written a review, but The Wild Shore by Kim Stanley Robinson is one of the best books I’ve read in years. Fantastic story, compelling characters, interesting issues, vivid writing – I just loved it.


It is set in America “after the bombing”. The United States is no more. America has suffered a severe nuclear attack. Millions died in the initial attack, and millions more in the aftermath, struggling to survive in the new pre-industrial world. Getting food by growing and hunting it, avoiding the “scavengers” – the people who live from the looted ruins and hunt one another.

What is more, the outside world is actively preventing any kind of reconstruction, using their space age technology to destroy any attempts to build up an industrialised civilisation.

About sixty years after the bombing seventeen year old Henry is living in a coastal farming community. He has a rather strange view of history, learnt from old Tom, one of the only people who still remember the “old times” before the bombs. This is a combination of truth and tall tales, and in fact, this is a strong theme in the book – the importance of story telling and the need for “lies”.

Henry has to make some hard choices when he meets outsiders urging him to join the “resistance”, a group people who vow to fight the outside worlds attempts to “keep America down”. He learns about betrayal and regret, and what it means to be an adult in a harsh world.

The setting of this story is just awesome. Trees growing on the abandoned highways, crumbling sky-scrapers, flooded cities. Kim Stanley Robinson always loves to dwell on the detail, and its never just “description”. The landscape is as important to the plot as the action.

And apparently there are more – a whole series of “Orange County” books. Off to the library to find some more!

One step closer to publishing – the cover design:

I’m about to publish my collection of short stories as an ebook. It’s been a very interesting process so far, lots to learn. I’ve just completed the cover designs. The stories will be available as bundles of three or four stories each, or you can buy the full collection that  includes illustrations.

Designing ebook covers has some specific challenges as they need to read clearly at thumbnail size and also in grayscale , to look good to potential buyers browsing for books on their Kindles.

Here is the cover for the first bundle:

I like the way they look as a set.  Here are the rest:


William Blake’s Inn by Nancy Williard

“William Blake’s Inn – Poems for Innocent and Experienced Travellers” written by Nancy Willliard and illustrated by Alice and Martin Provensen is simply charming.  It is an homage to William Blake in words and images.  Nancy Williard’s poems remind me more of Ogden Nash than Blake, but they share Blake’s fantastical imagery.  The Inn is inhabited by dragons, angels, bears and the King of Cats, no less:

The tiger is a recurring motif, for obvious reasons.  Just look at this mischievous beast:


A Modern Witch by Deborah Geary

It’s been a while since I’ve done any book reviews, but I’ve been inspired to start again by my experiences in reading ebooks. My husband and myself were lucky enough to get a Kindle each as a birthday present from my sister in law. Thanks Moira!

I’ve been reading quite a few books on my Kindle, and here is one I thoroughly enjoyed: A Modern Witch by Deborah Geary.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

It’s a fresh take on the classic fantasy trope of somebody coming unexpectedly into their magical power. But unlike many others, this is dealt with a light and humorous touch – no endless pages of adolescent guilt and denial!

What I particularly enjoyed is the solid and convincing way the magic itself is portrayed. This is an area that is often glossed over in other books. Magic, how it works, its effects on people and their relationships with one another is the focus of this story. At times I wondered if the author herself is a witch, it was all dealt with in such a knowledgeable, no nonsense and practical way. 🙂

This is not the usual plot about taking-down-evil-threat-to-the-world-with-predictable-cliffhanger-ending. It’s all about relationships and people getting to know themselves and one another. I also appreciated the many strong female characters. This book certainly passes the Bechdel test!

The mice far from home: Lliane Roels

Here are some pictures from a book I’ve known since childhood – “Bij de dieren thuis: De Muizen”  which translates to roughly to “At home with the animals: The Mice”.  It’s a small book with a simple theme – some mice travel the world to find out how other mice live.

It starts off with our hero, a mouse called Lodewijk, who lives with his family in the ideal mouse home, inside a rocking horse in an attic.  Of course, Lodewijk is not satisfied with his happy life and goes off on an adventure.  First, he rescues Lili, a white mouse from a laboratory:

Liane Roel’s illustrations are enchanting: every detail is considered, every shape exact.
Lodewijk and Lili travel the world and find out how other mice live.  They find that the country mice have a beautiful home, but some frightening enemies:


Switch on the Night by Leo and Diane Dillon

It’s been a while since I’ve posted – (and no, I’m only halfway with colouring in the “Unexpected Tea Party drawing that I posted about last time!)

In any case, I wanted to share an illustrated children’s book I found in a second hand bookshop yesterday.  It is called “Switch on the Night”, is written by Ray Bradbury, and illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon who I also wrote about in this post.

The story is about  a boy who is afraid of the dark.  He does his best to light up every room he is in:

Notice the Escher-like distortions of perspective.  Here is another image, showing his parents walking through the house, switching off the lights:


Zinzi and Sloth – Zoo City

I’ve just finished reading “Zoo City” by Lauren Beukes.  I really enjoyed it, and did some drawings of the characters.  Here is Zinzi December  and her Sloth:

I like her a lot.  She’s a tough girl.

I want to draw her lover, BenoĂźt, but I dont have a clear idea what he looks like yet.

Finding “Fire upon the Deep”

This morning, we celebrated our return from flu-land by strolling down to a nearby second hand bookshop – where I found this:

A copy of Vernor Vinge’s amazing “Fire Upon the Deep”.  It’s what I think of as “proper” science fiction, with fascinating ideas as well as an excellent story.  Also, some of the most interesting aliens I’ve ever read about.
Just the right book to read on a sunny Saturday morning :).

You can read a description of the book here.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

This is one of the saddest books I’ve read.  And yet, despite its subject matter, it is very gentle.  Only at the very end did the story flow away and leave me stranded with the pain of the narrator embedded in my own heart.

It is very difficult to write about “Never Let Me Go” without some spoilers.  I’m about to give away a plot point now because unlike many others whose reviews I’ve read, I don’t believe that this point is in fact, the core of the book, or the source of its sting.

But in case you are like me, and thoroughly allergic to any spoilers at all – I will now say goodbye :).  If you dont mind, read the rest of the review…

…good.  You are still around.  🙂 More

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